Feeling in control? It could add years to your life.

Margie Lachman, a professor of psychology at Brandeis University, led a recent study on one's sense of control and life expectancy.

Margie Lachman, a professor of psychology at Brandeis University, led a recent study on one’s sense of control and life expectancy.

I’ve long wondered if outlook could change one’s life expectancy odds, since part of what accounts for discrepancies in life spans relates to a sense of control. That’s why those higher on the social ladder live longer, even if those just below them on the rung have safe homes, good food, medical care, etc. More control means less stress, better health.

So a new study caught my eye. It reported that for a certain population (those with less than a college degree), a sense of control did indeed influence life spans.

“Health and longevity are not just due to health care access,” said Margie Lachman, a professor of psychology and director of the Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging at Brandeis University, who led the study. “Attitudes make a difference. How you construe your circumstances and challenges determine whether you take action or give up, or feel stressed or motivated.” Her comments appeared in a Health Day article, published by the National Institutes of Health.

Lachman and her colleagues looked at data from more than 6,100 U.S. residents who turned in health surveys from 1994 to 1996. They then looked at what happened to them by 2009, and found nearly 600 had died.

As other research has shown, the odds of dying was higher among those who had lower levels of education. But the researchers found that feeling a sense of control counteracted the increased risk.

The study, which was funded by the NIH, appeared online Feb. 3 in the journal Health Psychology.

So what accounts for the difference? “People with a high and low sense of control will see the same situation differently, perhaps as a challenge versus a threat,” Lachman said.

Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, lauded the study for showing that being poor or uneducated doesn’t need to translate into feeling helpless.

“The idea that someone with low education can have high levels of perceived control and outlive their peers with the same education is a powerful finding,” she stated in the Health Day article.

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