What research shows about aging
For more than 80 years, researchers have also been collecting data for The Longevity Project, which examines the lifestyles and behaviours of 1,500 people in San Francisco who were selected to participate in 1921—when most of them were 10 years old. Some of the results have turned conventional wisdom on its head, says lead investigator Howard Friedman, psychology professor at the University of California in Riverside, who analyzed the data and published the results with co-author Leslie R. Martin in the 2011 book The Longevity Project. For instance, we’ve long been told that married people live longer, healthier lives than singles. But Friedman says, “In our studies, women who got divorced or stayed single often thrived. Even women who were widowed often did exceptionally well.” The key may be in social connections, which are vital to physical and mental health and which women tend to seek out and maintain; divorced men often lose these connections and are at high risk for premature mortality, Friedman says.
The study also poked holes in our society’s apparent longing for early retirement and a leisurely life. In fact, a demanding job—including a certain amount of adversity—appears to offer benefits. “The Longevity Project discovered that those who worked the hardest lived the longest,” Friedman says. “The responsible and successful achievers thrived in every way, especially if they were dedicated to things and people beyond themselves.”
The researchers also found, to their surprise, that a perennially optimistic attitude was not the ticket to a long and healthy life. “Being too cheerful was not helpful and was sometimes even harmful,” Friedman says. “Our breakthrough finding was that conscientious children and adults stay healthier and live significantly longer.” Why? Unlike the carefree, who think nothing bad will happen to them, worried people don’t take their health for granted. They’re less likely to engage in risky activities like smoking, binge drinking, doing drugs or driving a car without wearing a seat belt. They’re more likely to watch what they eat, follow doctors’ advice, get enough sleep, and have more success in marriage, friendships and jobs.
Drawing on global research, here are more ways to help you stay healthy for as long as possible: