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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Surprising keys to long life

Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin from the University of California, Riverside have been studying the factors that allow people to live long lives. The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study is the result of their two decade long project.

Much of the data was first gathered by the late Louis Terman of Stanford University, who studied 1500 ten-year-old children, starting in 1921. Those children were followed over the decades, and extensive notes were taken on every aspect of their lives. When Friedman and Martin took over the project in 1991, they enlisted the help of graduate and undergraduate students to track down additional information about the Terman participants.

The results were somewhat startling. In particular, the researchers did not expect to see that the most cheerful, optimistic, happy kids had not lived as long as their more serious counterparts. Also, persistent hard-working people lived longer than more relaxed stress-free people.

You may or may not be surprised by some of the other findings:

  • Men in long-term marriages lived the longest, followed by those who never married, and trailed by those who had been divorced. Women’s longevity was not greatly affected by marriage or divorce.
  • Pets do not extend life expectancy, nor does feeling loved. On the other hand, helping others and participating in health-promoting groups does extend life expectancy.
  • Here’s one that really surprised me. According to the authors, starting formal education too early (first grade before age 6) is linked to earlier mortality.

Personally, I think this study was a bit small to make these kinds of sweeping statements. It does give one pause though. You can see Friedman and Martin discuss their project here: