You think you know the key to a long life? Healthy lifestyle choices play a part. Smoking, excessive drinking and bad eating habits affect how long you’ll live. So does chronic illness. But here’s something that well be new information — if you feel healthy, and if your mental agility feels sharp, you’ll live longer.

Here’s what the research found…

The findings come from a longitudinal study of over 6,000 adults.  The journal Psychological Science published the results. Stephen Aichele, a psychological scientist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and his colleagues wanted to study if cognitive function, health and lifestyle variables could predict mortality. Researchers have studied poverty, illness and diet to see the effect they have. However, most researchers examine these separately. Aichele and his team wanted to see how these worked together. This is useful since you can’t separate factors like socio-economic status from access to medical care and diet.

Perception is reality

The team looked at nearly thirty years worth of data. The information was collected from 6,203 adults aged 41 to 96 years old. Using statistical analysis, the researchers were able to assess the importance of 65 different variables. Surprisingly, they found that perceived health and mental processing speed were two of the strongest predictors for a long life.

“The result that psychological variables are so strongly linked to mortality risk is very surprising because much extant evidence supports the hypothesis that the strongest predictors of survival in old age are of medical or physiological nature,” explains Aichele.” In layman’s terms — it has long  been thought that illness was the biggest influence on a long life, but it now appears that feeling physically healthy is just as important, and that a healthy mind may also mean a healthy body.