Positive social traits, a new study suggests, could delay declines in health by up to a decade.
Many studies have documented the dangers of the traditional negative physical risk factors on health-excessive smoking, drinking and being overweight.
However, very few have focused on less-tangible, positive influences-the protective role of psychological and social supports.
Margie E. Lachman and Stefan Agrigoroaei of the Brandeis Psychology Department explored the psychological roots of health.
Lachman and Agrigoroaei's study The Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS), involved 3,626 adults aged 32 to 84 who were assessed over two periods about 10 years apart.
It found that that with proper protective elements in place, declines in health could be delayed by up to a decade.
The research identified physical exercise, social support and control beliefs, individually and in combination, as significant predictors of change in functional health, above and beyond the negative effects of the traditional risk factors.
"Control beliefs" refer to a person's sense of how much they can influence important life outcomes.
Those who have a greater sense of control are more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviours, such as getting exercise and eating right. Supportive social relationships can promote health by reducing stress and encouraging healthy behaviours.
The research was published in the journal PlosOne.