Could Patience Help You Live Longer?

Patience is a virtue, of course, but an intriguing new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests it may also affect the aging process. The research focused on undergraduate students (who probably aren’t thinking about healthy aging), but it provides some clues as to how actions today might affect your health later.

What Researchers Found
Researchers studied something psychologists call “delay discounting” in over 1,000 students using questions like this: Would you rather have $100 now or $128 one month from now?

Did you opt for the $128? If so, congratulations—you’re probably more patient (less of a delay discounter).

But this is where it gets interesting: The researchers also measured certain features of the students’ DNA, and they found that those who were less patient had shorter telomeres.

We’ve written about telomeres before. They’re protective caps at the ends of our DNA, and they tend to shorten as we age. Stress and other things that damage cells accelerate this process. As a result, the length of your telomeres may be a better indicator of “how old you really are” than your actual age. In fact, the longer your telomeres are, the longer you are likely to live, and telomeres are shorter in people who smoke and those under long-term stressbut this is the first evidence that decision-making behaviors are associated with different telomere lengths.

Still Waiting for the Punch Line?
Interestingly, shorter telomeres at a young age are associated with age-related health problems later in life. And those of us who develop more age-related health problems also tend to be bigger delay discounters. So, while there’s no proof yet that all of these things are linked, you can probably do the math. It seems like healthy aging and patience might go hand in hand (at least from your DNA’s perspective 🙂 ).

(Featured image courtesy of

Tom LaRocca

Tom LaRocca, Ph.D., is a research associate and instructor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.