There is a lot of news about the “older market” or other stories featuring someone who has reached the landmark age of 100 years and more. In my geriatric management experience, while working with elder adults and their families, all of what I see in the news is just snapshots of people at a certain age. What I have found is that who a person is at 80 or 90 is really a product of experiences that preceded the present. A long term study of aging by the Harvard Study of Adult Development followed a cohort of Harvard sophomores along with a group of young men in Greater Boston since the 1930s.
My title stretches their findings a bit, because of course no one lives forever, but the study did offer some great insights into living long and living well:
- Get rid of the cigarettes. The Harvard Study showed that men who did not smoke clearly out-lived those who were smokers. Other research continues to show that giving up smoking is a positive influence on health and longevity at almost any age.
- Practice competent coping. It is not about the hand that life dealt these study subjects; it is about how they played the hand they were dealt. People who adapted to the events of life overall have lived longer than those who did not.
- Waistline leads the lifeline. The researchers found that those subjects who maintained a “healthy waistline” and weight fared better than their obese counterparts. It is not about being stick thin, but it is about avoiding the other extreme.
- Regular exercise contributes. Any kind of regular exercise improved both the physical and mental health of the men the study followed. Exercise also likely contributed to that healthy waistline and positive attitude.
- Be mentally engaged. It starts with pursuing an educational degree, but those who lived longer also always seemed to have something they were excited to explore whether it was keeping a journal or studying a new subject. Intellectual activity seemed as important as physical activity.
- Make and keep friends. That also includes the person one marries. The researchers found that those who were the most socially engaged also tended to live longer.
I have not talked about how old one’s parents lived or one’s cholesterol. These factors did contribute to longevity, but the researchers noted that they contributed less than expected. Even stress in a study subject’s life was not a negative predictor of longevity as much as how the subjects coped with the stress.
Charlotte Bishop is certified in geriatric management and founder of Creative Case Management, led by professionals who are advocates, resources, counselors and friends to elder adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.