Every once in a while a truly fascinating topic comes along. If you have yet to hear of the 70 year project on aging, known as The Longevity Project, you’re in for a treat. On episode #48 of The Longevity & Biohacking Show, host Jason Hartman interviews the authors who studied the voluminous data and wrote the book, Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin. Get ready to unlearn a great many things you thought were the gospel truth about how to live a long life.
The Study’s Background
(Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”) In 1921, before most of us were born, a remarkable study began tracking the loves and lives of 1,500 Americans from childhood to death. The study continues today, with research teams led by Howard Friedman still keeping tabs on the remaining few who are still alive and analyzing massive amounts of data to establish precisely what it was (is) about these 1,500 individuals that led some to stay well and others to fall ill or die before their time. Incredibly, no one until now has chronicled and interpreted the findings from the monumental, almost century-long, project for the general public. Is longevity associated with being married, daily jogs, living with pets, or faith in God? At last, in lucid prose and with rigorous yet crystal clear analysis, we have the answers.
The Longevity Project Today
For almost 70 years the study piled up data but it wasn’t until 1990, when Leslie Martin and Howard Friedman arrived on the scene, that real research and analysis entered the equation. It was then that the two scientists began the laborious process of picking apart the voluminous information to find out if conventional wisdom reflected reality. There were some surprises!
It turns out that it is the broad brush stroke choices we make along the way that determine our chances to live a longer life, not exact choices like a particular diet or exercise routine. The bottom line conclusion, however, is that there are clear indications early in life of whether or not you’re doing the things you need to do to live a long time. The good news is that you can always make positive changes!
The Optimism Factor
Perhaps the most interesting revelation from the study is that, contrary to what most people think, optimists (defined as outwardly positive people who tend to think everything will go their way) tend to live shorter lives. They also are more likely to be smokers and heavier drinkers. What the crap?! That’s not even fair! Why?!
Friedman’s explanation makes sense. There are two factors that send optimists to an early grave, according to The Longevity Project results. Number one is that optimists tend to be less cautious. They’re more likely to die in some sort of accident. An optimist is also less prepared to handle the little (and sometimes big) stresses involved with daily life. This stress manifests itself in the drinking and smoking we talked about earlier. You can also throw in unhealthy eating, which leads to heart problems, arthritis, high cholesterol and blood pressure, and a host of other lifestyle diseases.
So there you have it. A simplistic approach of “being cheerful” is not your best choice. Apparently, it doesn’t pay to be an optimist. So what personality type lives the longest? Is it the down-in-the-dumps pessimist?
The Power of Focus and Discipline
Friedman and Martin described The Longevity Project’s longest lived subjects as “conscientious.” These were (are) the ones who might be described as less cheerful but more careful, focused, and with a tendency to get things done. These people usually have better relationships and marriages, enjoy faster promotions, and find more fulfilling jobs. A standout characteristic is the ability to stick to what they are doing until it is done. This leads to a more fulfilled life. There is a direct correlation between fulfillment and longevity.
Social Relationships, Marriage, and Divorce
Social ties are critical to living a long life and perhaps no more important social relationship exists than that of marriage and, when that fails, divorce. There are some interesting tidbits from the study related to matrimony and lack thereof. Conventional wisdom claims a good marriage helps you live longer, which is true, though more so for men than women. A married man tends to outlive a single one. A woman tends to live about the same length of time whether she is steadily single or married.
Okay. What about divorce? Post divorce, men take on a much greater mortality risk than women. A man can mitigate his risk of passing early if he gets remarried. Women are just as well to stay single. Doesn’t really matter. The authors attribute this to the power of social ties and relationships outside of marriage, of which women tend to have more. Men rely on their wives for social connection. Though they may greatly long for, and enjoy, the “boys night out,” it’s a superficial experience and won’t fulfill them emotionally.
The Bottom Line
So the big question becomes “What can I do to live longer?” There are a few final takeaways. Choose a physical activity that you like and do it consistently your entire life. Doesn’t matter whether it’s gardening or dumpster diving. Like Nike says, just do it. Another factor to seriously consider is to have a larger than life mission. Dedicating yourself to activities and careers that bring benefit to others is REALLY important.
Lastly, it’s not random how you end up later in life. People bring good and bad luck upon themselves, and it’s never too late to change the path you’re on. For more on this topic, visit www.HowardSFriedman.com and consider buying the book, The Longevity Project, especially if you’re curious about how you’re doing so far. It includes a series of quizzes that help you rate yourself in regard to living as long as you can. (Image: Flickr | Shar ka)
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The Longevity Show Team