Is self-control the secret to a longer life?
That finding comes from a cohort study tracking 1,000 New Zealanders since their births. A dream team of 23 global researchers centered at Duke University found that the children who exhibited high levels of self-control developed into healthier, younger-bodied adults who age slower. What does “age slower” mean, exactly? Their bodies are biologically younger and show fewer signs of brain aging than those of their middle-aged peers.
If you were the kid who couldn’t resist devouring every bag of marshmallows you saw, don’t despair: Youthful self-control (or lack thereof) is not destiny. Self-control is malleable and can be taught, and the study found that participants who developed ways to increase their self-control, whether as children or middle-aged adults, showed better health outcomes.
Interviews with the cohort suggest that cultivating self-control is wildly worthwhile. The participants with ample self-control also tended to be more financially secure, more satisfied with middle-age life, and more equipped to manage the coming health, financial, and social demands of aging. This all suggests that self-control sets up people for healthy aging, and may well lead to longer lifespans.
Yes, high levels of childhood self-control are often found in children with higher IQs in more financially secure families; however, the researchers found the same results when controlling for socioeconomic background and intelligence.
The researchers hope that their work will result in self-control training as a core tenet of childhood education and adult improvement. The findings were published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.