JAMA Says Listen to ELSA: Live Long and Prosper

A December 2014 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) research letter reveals a study showing that older people who feel three or more years younger than their chronological age may have a lower death rate. How one views his or her age can affect health and subsequently, financial well-being, in one’s golden years.


The fifth segment of the “English Longitudinal Study of Ageing” (ELSA) was conducted by researchers from the University College London who followed over 6,000 people age 65 who said that they felt ages 56 to 57. The overall study is centered on the dynamics of ageing and the relationships between economic circumstances, social and psychological factors, health, cognitive function, and biology as people move through retirement into older age; the fifth and latest segment of the study focused on pension wealth and contribution dynamics, social detachment, and health and well-being.

According to ELSA researchers, the data from ELSA provides crucial evidence that is relevant to decision-making in the arena of public health policy and to research in economics, health, biology, and social sciences. ELSA researchers launched their sixth wave of the study on October 23, 2014.

ELSA Results

Amazingly, almost 70 percent reported feeling three or more years younger; 27 percent felt close to their real age; and five percent felt more than a year older than their actual age.

During an average follow-up of eight years (2002-2010), the researchers found that a little over 14 percent of those who felt younger than their actual ages had died compared with more than 24 percent of the people who reported feeling older or feeling their age who had died. Some 18 percent of the study population who felt like their chronological age died within that same time period.

Health and Wealth

Other research from the University of Pennsylvania supports the ELSA study by suggesting that the more conscientious one is about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and remaining positive the longer the individual lives. Certainly there are physiological implications, but there are economic ones, as well. The old saying, “without good health, you have nothing,” certainly applies to those approaching retirement.

Physically and mentally healthy people tend to maintain employment that offers health coverage and retirement benefits. In a 2012 Harris Interactive survey, 93 percent of current retirees earning $250,000 in that year reported they were confident they would be able to pay health care costs, with many of the retirees reporting they had pensions and employer-paid health care. Financial freedom results in less emotional and physical stress, which may also contribute to a longer life.