Want to live longer and happier? Here’s how…

Most of us would like to live for a long time. And, while we’re at it, to have fun.

So, what do the experts recommend that we do to achieve this goal?

"The most important advice we offer people about longevity is, "throw away your lists," says Howard Friedman, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and Co-Author of 'The Longevity Project'.

He continued the research of Stanford University Psychologist, Lewis Terman who analysed the lives of 1,500 American boys and girls, documented how and when they died and studied their lives in meticulous detail.

Although many of those studied died by their 60’s, many others aged in good health and lived well into old age.

"Surprisingly, the long-lived among them did not find the secret to health in broccoli, medical tests, vitamins, or jogging. Rather, they were individuals with certain constellations of habits and patterns of living. Their personalities, career trajectories, and social lives proved highly relevant to their long-term health, often in ways we did not expect."

"We live in a self-help society full of lists: lose weight, hit the gym. People who live a long time can work hard and play hard," concluded Howard Friedman.

Under the right circumstances, it increasingly seems, all of us can lead long lives.

How?

  • Well, there is something to be said for ageing less timidly and embracing all of your feelings – argue when you feel like arguing, play when you feel like playing, according to Howard  Friedman.
  • One of the most challenging elements for us as we become older is remaining connected with people, especially new and old friends.

“A 2017 study in the journal ‘Personal Relationships’ found that it can be friends, not family, who matter most. The study looked at 270,000 people in nearly 100 countries and found that while both family and friends are associated with happiness and better health, as people aged, the health link remained only for people with strong friendships,” Time Magazine reported in February 2018.

“Loneliness is on the rise and feeling lonely has been found to increase a person’s risk of dying early by 26 per cent – and to be even worse for the body than obesity and air pollution,” reports Mandy Oaklander.

When we perceive our world as threatening, that can be associated with an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University. These effects can lead to hypertension and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

  •  A 2016 study has found that elderly people who exercised for just 15 minutes a day, at an intensity level of a brisk walk, had a 22 per cent lower risk of early death compared compared to people who did no exercise. Exercising just two days a week can lower the risk for premature death.
  • Peter Martin, a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University found that “while most centenarians eat different but generally healthy diets, one consistent thing that is they rarely skip breakfast. It’s often at a very specific time, and the routine is important.”
  • There’s also an argument for letting go of diet obsessiveness, especially if you’re at a reasonably health weight already. According to the Time Magazine report, a study in 2016 found that women over age 50 should “simply stay in a healthy (weight range) – striving for a smaller size isn’t necessarily doing you any longevity favours.”

"Our research found that the more cheerful, outgoing children (in the study) did not, for the most part, live any longer than their introverted or serious classmates," said Howard Friedman in his book 'The Longevity Project'.

"Excessively happy people may ignore real threats and fail to take precautions or follow medical advice. It is okay to fret - if in a responsible manner."

  • Alcohol has its place too.  An August 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that light to moderate alcohol use (14 or fewer drinks per week for men and seven or fewer of women) is associated with a lower risk of death compared to people who don’t drink at all.

Among the 333,000 people in the study, light and moderate drinkers were 20 per cent less likely to die from any cause during the study period compared with their peers who don’t drink.

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Gilian Douglass

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