Kids with greater self-control are more likely to be healthier in middle age, study finds

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Experts say self-control during childhood can yield greater mental and physical health benefits

Self-control is a big part of adulthood. Now, researchers from Duke University are exploring how developing a strong sense of self-control throughout childhood can have long-lasting benefits. 

According to findings from a new study, kids with greater self-control are likely to become middle-aged adults with healthier bodies and minds. 

“Our population is growing older, and living longer with age-related diseases,” said researcher Leah Richmond-Rakerd. “It’s important to identify ways to help individuals prepare successfully for later-life challenges, and live more years free of disability. We found that self-control in early life may help set people up for healthy aging.” 

Promoting better well-being in middle age

To see how childhood self-control affected outcomes in middle age, the researchers had over 1,000 participants involved in the study from the time they were born through their mid-40s. Starting at age three, the participants were interviewed and underwent medical exams every few years until they reached their mid-40s. During childhood, parents and teachers also reported on the participants’ behaviors, including impulse control, inattention, aggression, and perseverance, among several others. 

The researchers learned that the participants with the highest self-control during childhood were healthier both biologically and physically than those with lower self-control. This positive trait was linked with better brain function and an overall slower aging process, and the researchers found that children with self-control were more likely to be optimistic about the future as adults and have greater life satisfaction during middle age.

“Everyone fears an old age that’s sickly, poor, and lonely, so aging well requires us to get prepared, physically, financially, and socially,” said researcher Terrie Moffitt. “We found people who have used self-control since childhood are far more prepared for aging than their same-age peers.” 

While these findings point towards benefits related to greater self-control during childhood, the researchers hope that these findings serve as inspiration for consumers of all ages to adopt better habits for both physical health and emotional well-being -- no matter how old they are. 

“...If you aren’t prepared for aging yet, your 50s is not too late to get ready,” said Moffitt. 

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