Monday, March 14, 2011

How to Live Longer

Over the past two decades, aging institutes have sprung up in many states, often affiliated with academic institutions. These institutes look at how to live a long life and how to extend seniors' healthy years and decrease their disease and disability rates.

Improving the quality of life among seniors is not a strictly altruistic goal; keeping seniors healthy offsets the considerable expense of caring for a large aging population. As the roughly 80 million Baby Boomers start to enter retirement, the question how do you live a long and healthy life? is being asked with increasing urgency.

A new book, The Longevity Project, by psychology professors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, tries to answer the first part of that question. The authors analyzed data from a study of the lives of 1,500-plus Americans, begun in 1921 by Stanford psychologist Louis Terman.

The authors took a rigorous approach to their analysis, which they conducted over 20 years. As they explain on the book's website:
We used both sophisticated statistical models and a variety of examinations of personalities, social relations, and behaviors. We looked at people who shared characteristics—those with similar personalities, say, or a history of divorce—to see whether those traits predicted their health over time. Many of our findings took us by surprise.
Friedman and Martin found that people who are persistent and prudent in their approach to life tend to live the longest. Helping others helps you live longer, but having pets doesn't. Marriage benefits men, but not women. The most upbeat, happy people don't necessarily live the longest.

I'm interested in the book, as it looks at what habits contribute to a long life - a topic in which everyone has a personal interest. I'm also curious about how much it addresses the second half of the question - how to make long lives healthy ones - a topic in which society has a vested interest as well.

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