Study links happiness to capacity to function in aged

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LOS ANGELES — People who enjoy life maintain their ability to take care of themselves, and they walk faster than those who rate their lives as less enjoyable, scientists reported Monday.

Feelings of happiness and enjoyment — "positive affective well-being" — have been associated with longer life and less heart disease and stroke. This study looked at daily functions and walking speed.

The long-term study included 3,199 people 60 and older. The researchers asked if activities of daily living (dressing, feeding, etc.) were affected by the degree of enjoyment of life.

Two or more activities were found to have been impaired over eight years among 4.4 percent of the people who scored high in enjoyment of life on a questionnaire; 11.7 percent of those who scored in the medium category; and 16.8 percent of those who scored low. A higher walking speed over eight years also was associated with enjoyment of life, the researchers said in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

They said that "an 80 percent increase in odds of acquiring two or more impairments in activities of daily living over eight years among people with low compared with high enjoyment of life is striking."

Enjoyment of life was assessed based on participants' response to statements such as "I enjoy being in the company of others" and "I feel full of energy these days." The researchers found that it was highest among the youngest, the most educated, the wealthiest and the married.

"Smoking, physical inactivity and less than daily alcohol consumption were also associated with lower enjoyment of life," the researchers said.

They also took into account such issues as clinical depression, saying, "The enjoyment of life is not simply the reverse of psychological distress."

The lead researcher, Andrew Steptoe of University College London, said that efforts to make life better for older people could also benefit the healthcare system.