Feature Archive

Think Healthy, Be Healthy?

Perceived health may determine your actual well-being.

WebMD Feature

A first heart attack. Prostate cancer. A 50th birthday. At some point, every man gets a shocking reminder that he won't be young and healthy forever.

This realization brings up the Big Question: How much time do I have? For a good guess, you could subject yourself to a battery of medical tests, get a few parts probed, and fill out volumes of questionnaires. But for the most accurate forecast, you should ask the Even Bigger Question: How healthy do I feel?

Think carefully. No matter what all of those tests say, your future largely hinges on your answer.

The Prophecy Fulfilled

A number of recent studies have uncovered a startling fact: A man's opinion about his health is one of the most important keys to his longevity.

That's certainly what researchers at Duke University found when they asked almost 3,000 heart patients to rate their health as poor, fair, good, or very good. As reported in the December 1999 issue of Medical Care, those who chose "poor" were about three times more likely than those who chose "very good" to die within the next three and a half years. Even an answer of "good" instead of "very good" increased the risk of death by 70%.

At first, those numbers may not seem particularly shocking. After all, a man who thinks he's in poor shape is usually right. The astounding thing is that in this study and many others, researchers did their best to control for age, smoking, activity levels, socioeconomic class, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, current diseases, and practically everything else that could affect a person's survival.