So, who wants to live a long life? Most of us would probably count ourselves in that number, and Sunday’s Parade magazine included an article that was bound to draw our attention: “The Secrets to a Long Life.”

The article was apparently written with a different title in mind, as it takes the approach of contradicting various “myths” about longevity, rather than presenting much new material. Basing their findings on an analysis and follow-up to a long-term study begun in 1921 by Lewis Terman, authors Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin argue that:

  1. Marriage doesn’t necessarily lead to a longer life, as often claimed — at least for women. Men who have faced divorce, however, are more likely to live shorter lives, particularly if the divorce sets in motion unhealthy behaviors. Lasting, steady relationships are key.

  2. Relaxation offers no magic pass to additional years: the study showed that those who had the most career success were the least likely to die young. Those who remain productive into their latter years lived longer: those who retired to a life of leisure tended to have shorter lives.

  3. Worry isn’t as negative a behavior as it’s cracked up to be. In fact, conscientiousness is a pretty good predictor of longer living. “Adults who were thrifty, persistent, detail-oriented and responsible lived the longest,” according to the authors.

  4. A higher education doesn’t always translate to a longer life. Though better educated folks do tend to be healthier and live a little longer, the number of degrees achieved is less important than “productivity and persistence in the face of challenges.” 

  5. Extroverts and optimists can’t count on living longer than introverts and pessimists, as widely believed. The more social people are, the more likely they are to succumb to peer pressures to join in unhealthy behaviors. And, people who live on the sunny side often underestimate threats to their health and fail to take appropriate precautions.

  6. Athletes don’t live longer than the nerds who never played sports in high school. The trick is not whether people are jocks when young, but whether they maintain physical activity in middle age. Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be beneficial, but those who remain physically active are likely to live longer.

What’s the take-home? If you want to increase your chances of reaching and surpassing the biblical “threescore and ten” years of life, foster steady relationships, be conscientious, remain productive, persist despite challenges, take life seriously, and get some exercise every day. These same behaviors or characteristics, it seems to me, would make our lives better, as well as longer.

So, what are your chances, do you think? Is it too late to make some helpful changes?

May you live long, and live well.


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