January 16, 2017

Happy-Go-Lucky Types Die Younger

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Cheer up. Stop wor­ry­ing. Don’t work so hard. That may be some of the worst ad­vice you could give some­one who in­tends to live a long life, a new study sug­gests.

“It’s sur­pris­ing just how of­ten com­mon as­sump­tions – by both sci­en­tists and the me­dia – are wrong,” said psy­chol­o­gist How­ard S. Fried­man of the Uni­vers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, who led the 20-year stu­dy. He and co-re­search­ers pub­lished the find­ings in a book en­ti­tled The Longe­vity Proj­ect: Sur­pris­ing Dis­cov­er­ies for Health and Long Life from the Land­mark Eight-Decade Study (Hud­son Street Press, March 2011).

“Probably our most amaz­ing find­ing was that per­son­al­ity char­ac­ter­is­tics and so­cial rela­t­ions from child­hood can pre­dict one’s risk of dy­ing dec­ades lat­er,” Fried­man said.

The team an­a­lyzed da­ta gath­ered by the late psy­chol­o­gist Lou­is Ter­man of Stan­ford Uni­vers­ity in Cal­i­for­nia and sub­se­quent re­search­ers on more than 1,500 bright chil­dren who were about 10 years old when they were first stud­ied in 1921. The Longevity Proj­ect, as the study be­came known, fol­lowed the chil­dren through their lives, col­lect­ing in­forma­t­ion that in­clud­ed family his­to­ries and rela­t­ion­ships, teach­er and par­ent rat­ings of per­son­al­ity, hob­bies, pet own­er­ship, job suc­cess, educa­t­ion levels, military serv­ice and more.

“We came to a new un­der­stand­ing about hap­pi­ness and health,” said psy­chol­o­gist Les­lie R. Mar­tin, a study col­la­bo­ra­tor who is now at La Si­er­ra Uni­vers­ity in Riv­er­side, Ca­lif. “One of the find­ings that really as­tounds peo­ple, in­clud­ing us, is that the Longevity Proj­ect par­ti­ci­pants who were the most cheer­ful and had the best sense of hu­mor as kids lived shorter lives, on av­er­age, than those who were less cheer­ful and jok­ing. It was the most pru­dent and per­sist­ent in­di­vid­u­als who stayed health­i­est and lived the longest.”

The cheer­ful, hap­py-go-lucky kids tended to take more risks with their health across the years, Fried­man not­ed. While an op­ti­mis­tic ap­proach can be help­ful in a cri­sis, “We found that as a gen­er­al life-orienta­t­ion, too much of a sense that ‘ev­ery­thing will be just fine’ can be dan­ger­ous be­cause it can lead one to be care­less about things that are im­por­tant to health and long life. Pru­dence and per­sis­tence, how­ev­er, led to a lot of im­por­tant ben­e­fits for many years. It turns out that hap­pi­ness is not a root cause of good health. In­stead, hap­pi­ness and health go to­geth­er be­cause they have com­mon roots.”

Oth­er sur­pris­ing find­ings:

  • Mar­riage may be good for men’s health, but has lit­tle if any ef­fect on wom­en’s life­spans.
  • Be­ing di­vorced is much less harm­ful to wom­en’s health. Wom­en who di­vorced and did not re­mar­ry lived nearly as long as those who were steadily mar­ried.
  • Study sub­jects who were the most in­volved and com­mit­ted to their jobs did the best. Con­tin­u­ally pro­duc­tive men and wom­en lived much long­er than their more laid-back com­rades.
  • Start­ing for­mal school­ing too early – be­ing in first grade be­fore age 6 – is a risk fac­tor for ear­li­er mor­tal­ity. Hav­ing suf­fi­cient play­time and be­ing able to re­late to class­mates is very im­por­tant for chil­dren.
  • Play­ing with pets is not as­so­ci­at­ed with long­er life. Pets may some­times im­prove well-be­ing, but they are not a sub­sti­tute for friends.
  • Com­bat vet­er­ans are less likely to live long lives, but sur­pris­ingly the psy­cho­log­i­cal stress of war it­self is not nec­es­sarily a ma­jor health threat. Rath­er, it is a cas­cade of un­healthy pat­terns that some­times fol­lows. Those who find mean­ing in a traumat­ic ex­pe­ri­ence and are able to re­es­tab­lish a sense of se­cur­ity about the world are usu­ally the ones who re­turn to a healthy path­way.
  • Peo­ple who feel loved and cared for re­port a bet­ter sense of well-be­ing, but it does­n’t help them live long­er. The clear­est health ben­e­fit of so­cial rela­t­ion­ships comes from be­ing in­volved with and help­ing oth­ers. The groups you as­so­ci­ate with of­ten de­ter­mine the type of per­son you be­come – healthy or un­healthy.

It’s nev­er too late to choose a health­i­er path, Fried­man and Mar­tin said. The key is not to stop worry­ing, they added, but to stop worry­ing about the min­u­tiae.

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“Some of the mi­nu­ti­ae of what peo­ple think will help us lead long, healthy lives, such as wor­ry­ing about the ra­tio of omega-6 to omega-3 fat­ty acids in the foods we eat, ac­tu­ally are red her­rings, dis­tract­ing us from the ma­jor path­ways,” Fried­man said. “When we rec­og­nize the long-term healthy and un­healthy pat­terns in our­selves, we can beg­in to max­im­ize the healthy pat­terns.”

“Think­ing of mak­ing changes as tak­ing ‘steps’ is a great strat­e­gy,” Mar­tin ad­vised. “You can’t change ma­jor things about your­self over­night. But mak­ing small changes, and re­peat­ing those steps, can even­tu­ally cre­ate that path to long­er life.”

 

 

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David Kekich (Living Healthy to 120: Anti-Aging Breakthroughs) is President/CEO of Maximum Life Foundation that focuses on aging research, a 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to curing aging-related diseases. For more information, visit: www.MaxLife.org. David contributes to our column Living Healthy to 120: Anti-Aging Breakthroughs. MaxLife is helping to make the anti-aging dream a reality with cutting edge Bio-Engineering research and products.

 

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