Consequences of loneliness on physical activity and mortality in older adults and the power of positive emotions

Nancy E G Newall, Judith G Chipperfield, Daniel S Bailis, Tara L Stewart
Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association 2013, 32 (8): 921-4

OBJECTIVES: This study examined the longitudinal relationships between loneliness, physical activity, and mortality in older adults. This study also tested the implication of Fredrickson's Broaden and Build Theory (1998, 2001) that positive emotions (happiness) might serve to "undo" the detrimental effects of negative emotions (loneliness).

METHOD: Participants (n = 228; 62% female; aged 77-96 years) took part in the Aging in Manitoba Study (2001) and the Successful Aging Study (2003). Mortality information was assessed in 2008.

RESULTS: Regression analyses showed that loneliness longitudinally predicted perceived physical activity and mortality. Moreover, in support of Fredrickson's theory, happiness moderated these relationships, suggesting that happiness had the power to "undo" the detrimental effects of loneliness on activity and mortality.

CONCLUSIONS: Loneliness is an independent risk factor for mortality and reduced physical activity among older adults; however, being happy may offset the negative consequences of being lonely. Future interventions could target positive emotions and loneliness as a way of ultimately enhancing the lifespan and wellspan of older adults.

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