There may be a long-reaching benefit to earning good grades as a kid: People who scored higher on intelligence tests as kids have a lower risk of dying from a bunch of common killers later on, research from the University of Edinburgh found.
In the study, researchers looked at childhood intelligence scores from over 65,000 people, and followed them up for an average of 57 years to study their causes of death.
The findings? People who scored one standard deviation above the average—about 15 points higher—were 28 percent less likely to die from respiratory disease, 25 percent less likely to die from heart disease, and 24 percent less likely to die from stroke.
When comparing the smartest to the not-quite-as-bright, the results were even more striking: People scoring in the top 10 percent of intelligence were half as likely to die from heart disease, stroke, digestive diseases, and smoking-related cancers than those scoring in the lowest 10 percent. Lung cancer produced the strongest effect: For those in the highest 10 percent of intelligence, their lung cancer risk was slashed by two-thirds.
Those in the top quarter of intelligence were one-third less likely to die from dementia than those in the bottom quarter, too.
It’s possible that protective behavioral traits might be linked to higher intelligence, such as not smoking, engaging in recommended physical activity, and being proactive about health care may be responsible, the researchers say. It’s also possible that intelligence can influence employment opportunities and thus job-related exposures to certain toxins—which may explain the risk for respiratory-related causes of death seen in those with lower scores.
While there’s nothing you can do to bump up your childhood IQ scores, you can take a proactive approach in safeguarding your health now.