Good Attitude Boosts Health As Much As Formal Education

Meaningful relationships, sense of purpose linked to lower disease risk in people with less schooling

FRIDAY, Oct. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Positive factors such as meaningful relationships with others and a sense of purpose can help reduce the negative health impacts of having less schooling, a new study suggests.

It is known that lack of education is a strong predictor of poor health and a relatively early death, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison pointed out. But their new study, published online Oct. 18 in the journal Health Psychology, found that peace of mind can reduce the risk.

"If you didn't go that far in your education, but you walk around feeling [good], you may not be more likely to suffer ill-health than people with a lot of schooling. Low educational attainment does not guarantee bad health consequences, or poor biological regulation," study co-author and psychology professor Carol Ryff said in a university news release.

Ryff and her colleagues measured levels of the inflammatory protein interleukin-6 (IL-6) in participants in the Survey of Midlife in the United States, a long-term study of age-related differences in physical and mental health. High levels of IL-6 are associated with a number of health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers.

The researchers found that people whose education stopped with a high school diploma or less but who had high scores on measures of general happiness or self-acceptance, or who felt their life circumstances were manageable, had IL-6 levels that were comparable to similarly satisfied, but highly educated people.

The findings could help in efforts to narrow the wide gap in overall health between the rich and poor.

"Other research shows that these psychological factors respond well to intervention," Ryff said. "Therapies exist that give people the tools to keep all these psychological characteristics working in their favor. They've been shown to keep people from falling back into depression and anxiety, which we know means bad things for their health."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about the mind-body connection.

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