01/29/2014 05:00 pm ET

Study Reveals Surprising Trait That Will Help You Live Longer

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What's the best indicator of your chance to live a long life? Is it your blood pressure? Your family history? Your diet? According to a new study, it may not be any of these things. Instead, your reaction time may be the most reliable way to determine how many years you'll live.

Indeed new research shows that those who display a slow reaction time in midlife are more likely to die years before those who are faster on their feet.

In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from University College London and the University of Edinburgh studied data from more than 5,000 people, aged 20 to 59, collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study in the United States. At the start of the study, in the 1990s, the reaction times of participants were measured. The task was a simple one -- people just had to press a button whenever they saw an image appear on a computer screen. Over the next 15 years, the participants were followed to record who had died and who had survived.

A total of 378 (7.4 percent) people in the sample died, but those with slower reaction times were 25 percent more likely to have died (from any cause) compared to those with average reaction times. This held up even after the researchers had accounted for the participants’ age, sex, ethnic group, socio-economic background and lifestyle factors.

Lead researcher Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson emphasized in a press release that a simple test of reaction time in adulthood can predict survival independently of age, sex and other factors.

"Reaction time may indicate how well our central nervous and other systems in the body are working. People who are consistently slow to respond to new information may go on to experience problems that increase their risk of early death," he said. "In the future, we may be able to use reaction times to monitor health and survival. For now, a healthy lifestyle is the best thing people can do in order to live longer."

The results of another study from 2005 also pointed to one's reaction time as a core indicator of long life. That research built on earlier studies showing that people with lower IQs tend to die at younger ages than those with higher IQs.

But if your reaction time isn't on par with those around you, don't despair. There are other ways to improve your odds of living a long and healthy life. For example, something as simple as eating nuts could lower your risk of early death by as much as 39 percent.

What do you think is the secret to a long life? Let us know in comments.



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