More than 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. While we can’t live forever, living longer and in good health is possible today. Dr. Howard Friedman, an esteemed health psychologist and author of The Longevity Project, has identified common indicators that help explain what causes people with similar backgrounds to diverge in terms of their health and well-being.
Here are nine surprising research findings that Dr. Friedman discovered about aging and longevity:
• Is cheerfulness an indicator of life longevity? Dr. Friedman’s research finds no correlation between cheerfulness and longevity. In fact, in some cases, cheerfulness can cause unhealthy behaviors. Cheerful people sometimes have optimistic mindsets that may cause them to ignore health concerns or believe things will take care of themselves.
• Do married people live longer? Yes! And no (that was cruel — so sorry). Generally, individuals who are married and in supportive, positive relationships live longer than their counterparts. However, married men live longer than unmarried men (in general) regardless of the health of their marriage. Not surprisingly, women who escape unsupportive marriages often outlive those who continue to live in unhappy relationships.
• Are extroverts more likely to live longer than introverts? The Longevity Project research found no correlation between extroversion and longevity. If you are an extrovert living uncomfortably in introverted situations or vice versa, then your longevity of life will be less than those who are able to relate and commune with others in the way that is enjoyable and comfortable for them. Having a community and social network to interact with were stronger predictors of life expectancy.
• Does being a super jock in your younger years help you live longer than the couch potatoes? Nope, so don’t think the impressive trophy shelf in your parents’ basement will bless you with more years than that Atari gamer you sat next to in high school. Exercise is an excellent indicator of life longevity insomuch that regular activity and exercise — even in our later years — will most likely extend your life. But if you were hyperactive in your younger years and have now become more sedentary, all that exercise in your youth has little correlation to longevity.
• Does having a pet extend your life expectancy? Not necessarily. Just having a pet will not help you live longer (sorry Fluffy). However, some byproducts of having a pet, such as taking regular walks, will most definitely improve your overall health and well-being.
• Is your education level an indicator of how long you might live? Most definitely. There is a very strong correlation between education attainment and health and longevity of life.
• Are wealthy people more likely to live longer lives? That depends (I know, another cop-out answer). Being financially well off inherently provides more opportunities to improve well-being, such as access to better health care services, the ability to make healthier food choices, and access to more life conveniences. However, just having more money does not necessarily correlate to a longer or healthier life.
• Do religious (or spiritual) people enjoy longer life spans? Yes! But it’s not because the universe has blessed them with sparkly glory or benevolently granted them longer lives. People who engage in a religious or spiritual practice tend to be involved in religious or spiritual communities. These social networks can improve health and support longer life spans.
• Scientists versus lawyers: Who typically lives longer? I couldn’t resist this one — who doesn’t want to know this? Am I right? Lawyers and business executives tend to live shorter lives, but it has nothing to do with the nature of their professions. Instead, it has correlated more to their personalities and behaviors that made those professions appealing to them in the first place. They tend to engage in riskier, more careless behaviors that could potentially shorten a person’s lifespan or damage their health.
According to Dr. Friedman’s research, choices, behaviors and situations that you put yourself into are more influential to your health and well-being than just being a cheerful person or eating healthy foods. Having a purpose outside of yourself that gives you motivation and the ability to live a consequential life is an indicator of longevity, too.
Mark Twain noted, “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.” I hope these tips will help you create a long, purposeful life that matches your unique personality and essence!