Scientists have found that unhappiness may shorten one’s life more than smoking.
Data from 12,000 Chinese adults revealed that having a poor mental state, resulting from feeling lonely, hopeless and having restless sleep, can shave more than a year and a half off the average lifespan.
Scientists say their research, which was published on Tuesday September 27, in the journal Ageing, shows that mental health is just as important as physical health.
The US-China team made the discovery while investigating a new AI “ageing clock” trained on biological sex, blood markers, biometric data and biological age of the participants of a major population study.
The clock worked backwards to estimate the specific contributions of different variables to ageing.
Lead author Dr Fedor Galkin said: “Ageing acceleration was detected in people with a history of stroke, liver and lung diseases, smokers, and most interestingly, people in a vulnerable mental state.
“In fact, feeling hopeless, unhappy, and lonely was shown to increase one’s biological age more than smoking.”
While smoking cut lifespans by an estimated 1.25 years, unhappiness and other psychological factors cut lifespans by 1.65 years, or one year and eight months.
The team linked other psychosocial variables, like being single or living in a rural area, to shorter lifespans. But their effect was much smaller.
Although the research itself is relatively new, it chimes with previous work that linked strong relationships with friends and family to longevity.
Co-author Manuel Faria, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, California, said: “Mental and psychosocial states are some of the most robust predictors of health outcomes — and quality of life — yet they have largely been omitted from modern healthcare.”
Dr Galkin added: “The psychological component should not be ignored in aging studies due to its significant impact on biological age.”