The study included 1,000 U.S. seniors (average age: 80) living at home. They completed annual surveys about their anxiety every year for 12 years.
Women with lower anxiety scores at the study's start had a higher death rate. They were 9% more likely to die during the study than women who had higher anxiety scores at the study's start.
"Anxiety may have a protective effect on women, possibly causing them to seek medical attention more often than men," Jianping Zhang, MD, PhD, of the Cleveland Clinic's psychiatry and psychology department, says in a news release.
But the study doesn't show whether anxious women went to see their doctors more often than other people. And it also doesn't show whether the anxious women had anxiety disorders.
Men were a different story. Their anxiety scores at the study's start weren't linked to their death rates.
Men who became more anxious were more likely to die than those whose anxiety level stayed steady. "Increasing anxiety over time is more detrimental to men," Zhang says.
Becoming more anxious didn't affect women's death rate. What mattered was how anxious women were when the study began, not whether their anxiety level changed.
The results held when the researchers considered participants' lifestyle and medical history.
The study was presented yesterday in Baltimore at the American Psychosomatic Society's annual meeting.