January 08, 2015

old man standing in a mall

There are some surprising secrets to longevity. Credit: Gato-Gato-Gato / Flickr Creative Commons

Eat more blueberriesDon't stress outSit less. Everyone’s looking for ways to live longer – and healthier – lives, and it's easy to get lost in a sea of conflicting information.
 
“People can get very discouraged when they have all these pieces of advice thrown at them and it can feel very overwhelming,” says Leslie Martin, a psychology professor at La Sierra University and co-author of The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life.
 
Martin and her co-author, UC Riverside professor Howard Friedman, analyzed the results of an 80-year study that’s tracked a group of people since 1921. After looking at patterns of behavior from childhood into old age, Martin found one important takeaway: Don’t get hung up on trying to check every box and do all the “right” things.

“Getting involved in things that you enjoy, nurturing social connections and being involved in your community – that seems to be much more important.”

There are also some more counterintuitive findings.

For starters, being overly cheerful and optimistic might not be good for your long-term health.
 
“The most cheerful and optimistic children actually ended up living shorter lives than their more serious, less optimistic peers,” says Martin. In the study, more cheerful people were more likely to be heavy drinkers, smokers, and risk-takers – leading to higher mortality rates.
 
Stress is another misunderstood component of longevity, says Friedman. He is quick to explain the difference between actual stress, when your body is out of whack, and just being busy.

“People are being given poor advice to ‘slow down and take it easy, stop worrying and retire,’ but in the Longevity Project, we discover that those who worked hard and stayed involved – they tended to live the longest,” he adds.
 
Don’t hang all your hopes on good genetics either. Friedman points out that only about a third of longevity is due to genetics and “siblings die at different ages. And some of the oldest living people in the world had parents who died very young, so it’s not a very strong correlation in that sense.”
 
Instead of stressing out over whether you should juice some kale or hit the gym, go meet up with some friends and just have a good time. Chances are, it’ll help you live longer.

Body and Mind, the Longevity Project, psychology, Howard Friedman, Leslie Martin

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