Can a Sense of Control Increase Your Lifespan?

Everyone has felt out of control at one point or time in their lives. But having a sense of control can actually be a lifesaver. According to a recent study led by Frank J. Infurna of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, people who feel that they have control over their lives have a longer lifespan than those who feel less control. It has been established that feeling as if life is uncontrollable can lead to negative psychological and physical health outcomes. This is especially true in later life. For instance, when significant illness or health crises arise, people may feel blindsided. They may not be able to control the circumstances around them and therefore have less motivation to engage in healthy activities. This loss of control may also increase psychological distress, negative affect, depression, and anxiety. In contrast, people who have high levels of control over their circumstances may actually have better health and be at less risk for illness and disease because they believe their life condition is a direct result of their efforts. But does a lack of control increase risk of death?

To answer this, Infurna assessed the changes in perceived control over a 16-year period in a sample of 2,840 adults between 28 and 99 years old. He then looked to see how levels of control predicted mortality on a 19-year follow-up. Infurna found that control significantly predicted lifespan, particularly in the younger participants. “Our models found that higher levels of perceived control and experiencing increases in perceived control over time were more likely to be protective against mortality for people at younger ages,” said Infurna. This does not mean that increases in control are not beneficial in elderly people. It just suggests that a sense of control that is established at a younger age has the potential to set the stage for lifelong positive behaviors and attitudes that can dramatically protect people from physical and psychological illnesses. However, Infurna believes that every effort should still be made to strengthen the level of perceived control in elderly individuals, especially those vulnerable to declines in control as a result of illness or disability.

Infurna, F. J., Ram, N., and Gerstorf, D. (2012). Level and change in perceived control predict 19-year mortality: Findings from the Americans’ Changing Lives Study. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031041

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  • Nancy


    January 24th, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    I don’t know how this works!For me,trying to be in control leads to stress and anxiety,which I believe predicts a lower lifespan.How does feeling in control actually help?isn’t it actually detrimental to one’s health?!

  • Keith


    January 24th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    As I was reading this I couldn’t help but see the positive benefits of maintaining some semblance of control over your life, and really accepting that there are these things that you DO have control over when you feel like you don’t. I have always kind of felt like there are things in life that are beyond me, and I still do believe in some sense that this is true. But the older I have gotten I realize that I can’t leave it all to luck or fate. There are always things that I can do to improve my chances for having a better life and that sometimes just giving it over to chance is simply giving in to being lazy. I like having that feeling of control, it is something that keeps me a little more positive and motivated. I f I didn’t have that I think I would turn into a fat and lazy couch potato, because what else would I have to live for or strive to improve?

  • matt


    January 24th, 2013 at 5:27 AM

    sounds reasonable..having a sense of control means you know what you are doing an it ramifications..such a person would be stable with his decisions and would probably know his way around things.that certainly is an encouraging way to be and could help with lifespans because such a person will have minimal anxiety and randomness in his life.

  • Roberto


    January 24th, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    I like to take things as they come. And although an unsavory event is not welcome I try to be as spontaneous as possible. So for me at least being in control wouldn’t help much. It depends on the personality type if you ask me.

  • Deb


    January 24th, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    I kind of feel the opposite.
    When I stop worrying so much about being in control that’s when I feel the best.
    I have become sort of laissez faire, you know, whatever happens just happens and that’s when I will deal with it.
    Why worry so much about controlling something that ultimately I have no real control over in the first place?

  • Joanna


    January 24th, 2013 at 11:24 PM

    What could be the underlying reasons for this? Is it that people who feel a sense of control are actually doing things right or help themselves or is it because of merely feeling in control? If its the latter then that is a whole new level of the power of positive thinking in my view.

  • Vaughn


    January 25th, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    Is it too pessimistic to say that when it’s your time then it’s your time and it doesn’t matter how in control you are of your life or not?

  • lance


    January 25th, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    feeling in control can put springs in your feet and can give you the confidence to ace anything you take up! that feeling is so good and its so precious, once you have it it almost becomes an addiction. but it can’t be had for nothing. it needs work and effort and to see that it could also carry the gift of adding years to your life I’m not surprised such a fulfilling feeling is capable of it!

  • w p e

    w p e

    January 25th, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    oh being in control is fine. but trying this excessively can leave you exhausted to. you ought to know just how far you need to push because otherwise too much of being in control can leave you chasing an illusion if ‘control’ the desired level of which can never be achieved.



    January 26th, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    Pretty sure this is true. And the opposite is true too. So many people who push themselves into where they have no control over their lives often have a hard time. Health suffers and down comes the life expectancy. It’s pretty clear. Now only if those people could see and realize this truth.

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