Good news for Discover readers: A high IQ may be as important as money and clean living in determining health. Mental health experts from the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh in Scotland studied 264 residents in Aberdeen, a fairly homogeneous community in northeast Scotland. In 1932, when they were 11, these people were given IQ tests as part of a national survey. The researchers recently administered a new round of IQ tests and found that individuals scored in nearly the same rank order as they did the first time. More surprisingly, those with higher scores had fewer diseases, better cardiovascular and respiratory health, and were more likely to be living independently, regardless of the socioeconomic circumstances of their childhoods.
"This tells us that for at least the very bright, a person's mental ability at age 11 is a powerful indicator of his or her health in old age," says Lawrence Whalley of the University of Aberdeen. One reason may be that townspeople with higher IQs generally made better lifestyle choices— giving up smoking in the 1960s, for example, when its hazards became well publicized. "When we've taken into account poverty, overcrowding, alcoholism in the family, and similar factors, it's remarkable how people rise above these circumstances. General intelligence is contributing to health in a way that is sometimes more important," Whalley says.