Growing up, we didn't naturally know how to make good choices. Today, we still struggle between right and wrong, but life skills from childhood have equipped us to make informed decisions, communicate effectively, and cope in a constantly changing environment. Now, researchers at the University College London suggest the importance of five life skills can boost our overall wellbeing as we age.

Conscientiousness, emotional stability, determination, control, and optimism were among the five specific life skills identified in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The effects of the combination of these skills led to economic, social, psychological, biological, and health benefits. In other words, maintaining these skills in adult life is possibly linked to health and well-being in old age.

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“There is research on individual factors such as conscientiousness and optimism in adults, but the combinations of these life skills has not be studied very much before,” said Andrew Steptoe, co-leader of the study, and a professor at UCL Epidemiology and Public Health, in a statement.

Steptoe and his colleagues examined the impact of these five life skills in over 8,000 men and women aged 52 and older who were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. Participants who possessed more life skills reaped benefits, including better health, less depression, low social isolation, better health, and fewer chronic diseases. This held true even when researchers took cognitive function, education, and family background into account.

Health and social outcomes were linked to the number of life skills a person acquired.

For example, depressive symptoms went down from 22.8 percent among those with low life skills to 3.1 percent in those with four or five skills. Meanwhile, about half who reported high levels of loneliness had few life skills; those with four or five attributes who were lonely declined to 10.5 percent. The researchers noted regular volunteering rose from 28.7 percent to 40 percent as the number of life skills acquired increased.

The percentage of participants who rated their health as only "fair" or "poor" was 36.7 among those who possessed low life skills; this fell to 6 percent in those with high life skills. In addition, people with more life skills tend to walk significantly faster compared to their counterparts. The researchers stressed walking speed is an objective measure that predicts future mortality in older groups.

Those who possessed high life skills also had "favorable" objective biomarkers in their blood with lower levels of cholesterol and of C-reactive protein — a marker of inflammation linked to a number of diseases — and smaller waistlines than those with few life skills.

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“No single attribute was more important than others. Rather, the effects depended on the accumulation of life skills,” said Steptoe.

The findings suggest maintaining these life skills well beyond childhood and into adulthood could be the secret to health and wellbeing at old age.

Previous research has found the secret to a happy and fulfilling life is good relationships. Strong social bonds, especially with spouses, were integral components that influence health and well-being. Those in stronger relationships were shielded from chronic disease, mental illness, and memory decline — even if these relationships had many ups and downs.

Good relationships aren't always blissful and conflict-free, but the idea spouses can rely on one another helped foster good health and overall well-being. Outside the home, those who replaced old colleagues with new friends after retiring were happier and healthier than those who left work, and didn't maintain contact. Staying social is a key aspect to wellbeing.

Life skills are essential in helping us maintain our relationships and stay healthy and active in old age.

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