We all know that to improve our medical health we should not smoke, exercise more and have better eating habits.

Now, new research suggests psychological and social support can convey health protective values on par with the famous threesome.

Historically, the influence of psychological and social influences on quality of life and life duration has received less attention than behavioral factors.

Brandeis University researchers Margie E. Lachman, Ph.D. and Stefan Agrigoroaei, Ph.D. reviewed findings from the The Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS) study. MIDUS was a prospective study assessing health status of 3,626 adults ages 32 to 84 at two periods about 10 years apart.

The researchers discovered that with proper protective elements in place, declines in health could be delayed by up to a decade.

Their findings indicate that specific psychological, social, and physical protective factors are associated with better health in later life.

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 behaviors, such as getting exercise and eating right. Suppotive social relationships can promote health by reducing stress and encouraging healthy behaviors.

The research is reported in an article “Promoting Functional Health in Midlife and Old Age: Long-Term Protective Effects of Control Beliefs, Social Support, and Physical Exercise,” just published in PLosOne.

The researchers note that the results are encouraging for the prospect of developing interventions to promote functional health, and for reducing public health costs for disabilities later in life.

Source: Brandeis University