The secret to living a longer life might be something a tad ironic or counterintuitive: worrying all the time.
Neurotic people are less likely to die, including from cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, according to research published in the journal Psychological Science. Scientists used data of self-reported health from more than 300,000 people in the U.K. to come to the conclusion that being neurotic is “associated with lower mortality,” especially when the person has feelings of worry and vulnerability. That pattern remained even after the researchers took into account that neurotic people are more likely to report being in poor health, regardless of their actual condition, and adjusted the results.
The study says the relationship might reveal something about how being a worrywart can be a positive trait: “Research into associations between personality facets and mortality may elucidate mechanisms underlying neuroticism’s covert protection against death.”
People whose data were included in the study had rated their own health as well as listed details like their blood pressure and pre-existing medical conditions. They also described health-related behaviors like smoking and exercise. Following up with the group several years later, scientists found that nearly 4,500 participants had died.
But the neurotic ones were more likely to live — and that was regardless of behavior.
“Health behaviors such as smoking, exercise, diet and alcohol consumption did not explain any part of the link between high scores on the worry/vulnerability facet and mortality risk,” lead researcher Catharine R. Gale said in a statement from the Association for Psychological Science. “We had thought that greater worry or vulnerability might lead people to behave in a healthier way and hence lower their risk of death, but that was not the case.”