Education Leads to Healthier, Longer Lives: Study

By   |  March 2, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, March 1, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- School not only makes a person smarter, but it can also help them live longer, researchers report.

People with more education tend to age more slowly and live longer lives compared to the less educated, the study found.

Higher levels of education are significantly associated with a slower pace of aging and a lower risk of death, according to the report published March 1 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

In fact, every two years of additional schooling translates to a 2% to 3% slower pace of aging, results show. This corresponds to a roughly 10% lower risk of early death.

This is the first study to connect educational achievement with the velocity of aging and the timing of death, the researchers said.

“We’ve known for a long time that people who have higher levels of education tend to live longer lives,” said senior researcher Daniel Belsky, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

“But there are a bunch of challenges in figuring out how that happens and, critically, whether interventions to promote educational attainment will contribute to healthy longevity,” Belsky added in a university news release.

For the study, researchers relied on data from the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing project first begun in 1948 that tracks the health of residents from the town of Framingham, Mass. The study now spans three generations.

To measure pace of aging, researchers analyzed genetic data from Framingham study participants using a genetic “clock” test that functions like a speedometer for the aging process. The test essentially measures how fast or slow a person’s body will change as they age.

Researchers then compared the genetic aging data to how much more or less education each person in the study attained, compared to their parents and siblings.

That way, the study could account for differences in educational backgrounds and financial resources between families, researchers said.

“These study designs control for differences between families and allow us to isolate the effects of education,” said lead researcher Gloria Graf, a doctoral student in epidemiology with Columbia University.

By comparing education and aging data to records indicating how long participants lived, researchers were able to link a slower pace of aging to increased longevity in people with more education.

Healthier aging trajectories among better-educated participants explained up to half of the impact that education had on the risk of death, Graf said.

“Our findings support the hypothesis that interventions to promote educational attainment will slow the pace of biological aging and promote longevity,” Graf said.

However, more research is needed to confirm this relationship and explain why education would help a person age more gracefully, Belsky said.

“Ultimately, experimental evidence is needed to confirm our findings,” Belsky said.

More information

Northwestern Medicine has more on biological versus chronological age.

SOURCE: Columbia University, news release, March 1, 2024