Natural born worriers tend to die earlier: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Men who are natural born worriers tend to die earlier than their relaxed peers because they are more likely to adopt unhealthy habits like smoking and heavy drinking, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana set out to look at the lifestyle habits and mortality rates of people with personality traits associated with stress and worry.

“Research shows that higher levels of neuroticism can lead to earlier mortality, and we wanted to know why,” said researcher Daniel Mroczek, a professor of child development and family studies.

“We found that having worrying tendencies or being the kind of person who stresses easily is likely to lead to bad behaviors like smoking and, therefore, raise the mortality rate.”

Mroczek said chronic worrying, anxiety and being prone to depression were key aspects of the personality trait neuroticism.

For the study, researchers analyzed data of 1,788 men, their smoking behavior and personality traits over a 30-year period from 1975 to 2005 that came from a long-term study of aging men in Boston, Virginia.

They found that a person with high neuroticism was likely to experience anxiety or depression and may self-medicate with tobacco, alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.

The study, published in this month’s Journal of Research in Personality, found that smoking accounted for about 25 percent to 40 percent of the association between high neuroticism and mortality.

The other 60 percent was unexplained, but possibly attributed to biological factors or other environmental issues that neurotic individuals experience, said Mroczek.

He said a better understanding of the bridge between personality traits and physical health can perhaps help clinicians improve intervention and prevention programs.

“It also may be possible to use personality traits to identify people who, because of their predispositions, are at risk for engaging in poor health behaviors such as smoking or excessive drinking,” he said in a statement.

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy