When we talk about what it takes to live a long life, we have a tendency to get hung up on the physical parameters associated with wellness, whether it be diet, exercise, or the myriad of other lifestyle factors associated with a healthy life. On the other hand, however, the way we live and enjoy our lives plays just as much of a role in longevity as our physical wellness.
Although smart nutrition and regular exercise both play a role in a healthy heart and a healthy body, when researching people that live long lives, especially those over the age of 100, there aren't a whole lot of factors that can be definitively associated with long life.
Longevity Not Always Associated with Health Choices
For example, two groups that have a tendency to live the longest are Okinawans from Japan and Ashkenazi Jews. Both have a tendency to have some habits that you might not associate with long life. For example, the Ashkenazi are more likely to drink to both be drinkers and smokers. They are also more sedentary than the average man. Okinawans, on the other hand, consume a lot of dairy and starches, and they also have a high-sodium diet.
There's one woman that's 107 years old, and she doesn't trust modern medicine, has never practiced a fitness lifestyle, and practically considers butter a food group. Furthermore, there are others that claim that their longevity is due to caloric restriction, whereas others that are able to reach the same age with a diet full of sweets, wine, pork, and liver.
So, based on these brief descriptions above, it is clear that there are a number of paths to longevity. Perhaps none are devoted to extreme excess, but different lifestyles can still be conducive to a long and healthy life.
Genetics and Longevity
One of the main factors associated with longevity appears to be genetics. Different people have different genetic predispositions which allow them to live longer than others. This is both with regard to individual-individual and culture-culture. Perhaps some cultures have lived a similar lifestyle for so many generations that their bodies have acclimated, allowing them to live a long life? Who knows? Of course, don't think of longevity as entirely predetermined, there's so much more to it than that, and there is a lot that you can do to maximize your lifespan.
Personality and Longevity
Diet, nutrition, and activity level play some role, but, perhaps surprisingly, it appears that your social profile and your personality play a significant and undeniable role. Are you happy? Do you feel like an active participant in your own life? Do you live with purpose? All of these are factors which keep your body primed and ready to take and enjoy what is thrown at you.
Your personality and your predisposition are factors which are engrained and genetically influenced, but you do have a huge amount of control over both. You don't have to resign yourself to the way you've been. You can make the concerted effort to facilitate such factors in yourself and improve both your quality of life and potentially your longevity! At worst, you won't live any longer, but you'll get more joy and pleasure out of every year that you have left!
The Following are Seven Social and Personal Characteristics Associated with Enhanced Longevity:
Social Connectedness is Important for Longevity
A big part of living a more profound and happy life is to cultivate bonds with your family and community and facilitate interconnectedness. When we live our lives solo, or don't reach out to others or maintain social contacts, it is a burden on us which inhibits health and wellness. Of course, don't think of connectedness as some sort of race. It's the quality of your relationships and their importance to you that matters over the quantity of connections that we make. Everyone understands in this Facebook culture how it feels to have connections to others which don't add meaning to your life.
One of the primary drives in our lives is to feel important to others and feel that we are making a difference—that we add something to someone else's life that makes you feel invaluable to them. And the best thing is that these are the types of relationship which are reciprocal and fulfilling.
In addition to this, people that are surrounded by those that they care about are more likely to reach out for help when they need it. If life gets tough they have someone to turn to. On the other hand, people that don't foster these relationships are more likely to develop habits which are conducive to poor health, such as smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity. There is even evidence that being around people that you care about helps stressful situations have less of an effect upon cardiovascular response. These connections even appear to enhance the strength of the immune system!
What Can I Do to Foster Strong Social Relationships for Longevity?
Even though things like Facebook can create interpersonal distance when used passively, they can be a great way to actually set up and arrange to hang out with your friends and family. Make the concerted effort to arrange plans and actually follow through. It's easy to get locked into a pattern and even avoid the people that you love and care about because you get so fixed on not making waves, but understand that there are a lot of people out there that would love to see you, and they are just a text, phone call, email, or message away. You have to remember that the same reasons that you haven't reached out to your friends are why they haven't reached out to you. It's no one's fault. Just make the call!
Conscientiousness and Thoughtfulness Lead to a Long Life
Awareness plays a big role in longevity. People that are more rash and prone to impulsiveness are more likely to get into accidents, fights, or other activities that can put them at risk. In 1921, a massive study followed 1500 children from childhood to death, and they discovered that the children that took the time to plan out their actions and those that engaged in thoughtful persistence had the greatest chance of living deep into old age. On the other hand, the positive and happy children were less likely to do so.
The children that grew up thoughtful were more likely to have strong relationships and be health conscious, while less likely to take risks. Also, the conscientious children were more likely to have jobs in which they were successful and satisfied with. The four attributes which were most likely to lead to a long life were conscientious discipline, organization, industry, and persistence. People that are conscientious as children are most predisposed to thoughtful action and therefore most likely to continue that thoughtfulness throughout their lives. Happy, optimistic children were more likely to turn into adults that didn't pay enough attention to their diet, and were more prone to poor habits.
People that are prudent and thoughtful are more likely to retain their cognitive function deeper into the lifespan, and this may even be associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer's Disease. People with these characteristics are also more likely to handle stress more effectively, or at least able to reach out for help more quickly. Of course, these attributes can also turn into negative factors. Prudence can easily become compulsiveness, and thoughtfulness can become anxiety, for example.
What Can I Do to Become More Thoughtful and Conscientious?
Although the study discussed above followed children from an early age without influencing their outcomes, there's no reason you can't make the effort to improve your thoughtfulness. Take the time to organize your life. Make plans and stick to them. Maintain a budget and keep track of it. Not everyone is a natural at this sort of thing, but by sticking your mind to it, you can make yourself organized and conscientious through a mix of want-to and brute force. It's also important not to rely solely on your own interpretation of your thoughtfulness. Get perspective from those around you and allow them to hold you accountable for your own desires and plans.
Don't Dwell on Anxiety and Worry to Live a Longer and Happier Life
While becoming more thoughtful and prudent can extend your life, getting worried and anxious can shave years off your life. When you dwell and focus too much on the negative, you put yourself on edge and increase the catabolic actions of depression and cortisol. If you obsess over things that cause you anxiety, you lose touch with the things that make your life enjoyable.
Emotional anxiety can even lead to physical stress, which can impact your health heavily in the short and long term. Stress can disrupt healthy sleeping habits, and it can increase your blood pressure. It can make you more likely to become obese as well as more likely to experience life-threatening conditions such as stroke and heart attack.
Don't let go too much, however. Anxiety is a tool that your body uses in its attempt to keep you on the right path, and if you throw it off your shoulders entirely, you could end up putting yourself in potentially risky and dangerous situations in which you could get yourself into some serious trouble! Acknowledge your stress and work to mitigate it, but don't cast it totally from your mind.
What Can I Do To Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Life?
Worrying is a subconscious activity that takes control of your conscious thought processes. When you start to feel anxious and stressed, take the time to thoughtfully process those feelings and take steps to mitigate that stress, either through action or by recognizing that what is causing you worry isn't nearly as big of an issue as your brain is making it out to be. Whenever you feel worried about something, Stop, think, and answer the question “Why is this worth worrying about?” More often than not, you'll realize that things that feel big are really not important or worth caring about when you really think about it.
People also have a tendency to worry about things that people have done to them, or worry that they might have done something wrong. Try to make the effort to maintain an open dialog with those around you. Also, don't be afraid to forgive. Holding grudges is a major source of anxiety and worry that is ultimately pointless.
Take what you learned from the previous step and take action to limit stress and worry. Grab a sheet of paper and write down the things in your life that make you worried. Stop and think clearly about all of those things and then rewrite the list according to which issues are most impactful upon your life and which are more minor. Strike out the minor issues that don't really matter, and make the effort to push worries related to these subjects out of your mind. Regarding the more major issues on your mind, use this time of reflection to plan out a course of action to make these larger worries less troublesome.
Other options include meditation and herbal supplements and teas which are designed for relaxation. Even scents can be beneficial. Lavender, for example, is scientifically proven to induce feelings of relaxation.
People that Are Optimistic Tend to Live Longer
This may seem a bit odd, given that optimism in children was linked to lower longevity, but it's important to recognize that optimism and positivity during adulthood is different that being born with optimism. There are a number of studies that show that optimism does a lot of powerful things to increase resiliency. As compared to pessimists, optimists are more likely to take care of themselves and brush off stress. Seeing the glass half full provides immense benefits to the individual.
In fact, there are scientists that hypothesize that evolution selects for positivity and optimism. People that are optimists are more likely to meet or exceed their expectations. When things get tough, they are more likely to keep a smile on their face. People that are optimistic are more likely to push harder to survive and persist. When faced with diseases like cancer, optimists are more likely to survive because of their will to fight.
How to Foster Optimism in Your Own Life
Like any other character trait, we have innate tendencies and predispositions, but they can be manipulated and adjusted. If you feel that you are not as much of an optimist as you want to be, take the time to take stock of your negativity or issues seeing the bright side of your life and your circumstances. Understand that even if things seem tough, you probably have things going alright in the big picture.
Hesitation breeds pessimism. If you are feeling down on yourself, and you have something that you want to do, just throw yourself out there and face your fear. You'll feel relief that you followed through on your impulse, and you'll see that things aren't as terrible as they seem. Optimism is bred through small victories, and those victories will get easier to come by over time.
People that Know How to Laugh Easy Are More Likely to Live Longer
Study after study has shown that laughter is powerful. It diffuses social situations of all kinds, and it even improves blood flow, circulation, and hormone balance. The feeling that you get when you laugh is great, and the inspiration for the laughter is often a comfort as well. There is even evidence that laughter increases the strength of the immune system, improving the ability of the body to fight off infection and cancer.
When you laugh, it acts as a switch to slow down the parasympathetic activity that burns you down and stresses you out. There is even evidence that laughter alters the way that your body uses Human Growth Hormone for the better. Although HGH has a number of widespread benefits, there is evidence that it can exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis. In these patients, laughter has been shown to limit the influence of HGH upon the joints.
How to Laugh Easier to Cultivate Longevity
Unlike the earlier character traits, it doesn't even take a concentrated effort to improve your ability to laugh. Just find a show, movie, podcast, or funny book that you like and relax. Laughter comes natural to human beings as long as you open yourself up to it. Get with your friends. Hang out. Cut up. Make some jokes yourself! Do whatever it takes to put a smile on your face and a laugh in your heart.
People That Are Happy Are More Likely to Live Long Lives
This may seem like a no-brainer, but people that self-report happiness are more likely to live a long life. A recent study, published in 2011, found that aging patients that reported themselves to be happy had a longer average lifespan. Surprisingly, the influence of happiness on longevity persists strongly even when a number of other variables were taken into account, such as their current health, age, and weight.
Like laughter, it is hypothesized that the feeling of happiness encourages positive physiological balance, and feelings of happiness have been shown to relieve the pains and struggles associated with many chronic medical conditions.
Of course, happiness and optimism are related, and they share many aspects in common. Like optimists, people that are happy are more likely to feel like their lives have meaning and purpose, and are more encouraged to engage in positive and enriching activities. There are a wide variety of influences that encourage happiness. A loving family, a fulfilling job, and enjoyable life experiences just to name a few. The feeling of happiness, divorced from its cause, is enough to facilitate a healthier life.
What Can I Do to Live a Longer and Happier Life?
One of the best ways to be happier is to get out and engage with life. It's difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate happiness just through want-to. If you struggle with depression, there are treatments available that may be able to help, but its still up to you to facilitate your own happiness. Just take the time to do things that give you joy and provide you with meaning. Happiness is largely the result of cultivating the other characteristics in this life. There are a million things in this world that can make you happy, you just have to go out there and find them.
Also, be willing to make short term sacrifices to enjoy more meaningful happiness. Take the time to create a world around you that allows you to be happy. Procrastination is a happiness-killer, because you spend your time dwelling on the things that you are supposed to do and don't give yourself the time to really appreciate what you want to do. Understand when to put your nose to the grindstone to fight through to the joy in your life!
Extraversion is Associated with a Longer Life
People that are extraverts tend to foster a lot of other character traits that are associated with long term health and survival. People that are extraverts are more likely to take positive risks, and do what they want to do in spite of the risks. They are more likely to remain impervious to negative influences in their life, thereby cultivating improved happiness and purpose.
This isn't to say that it's strictly bad to be an introvert. This is actually one thing that could be culturally specific to America and the West. The fast-paced world that we live in today naturally benefits the type of person that is willing to get out and participate, while leaving many introverts wanting more, or unable to actualize their wants and needs.
Extraversion makes it easier to simply do a lot of things that introverts tend to find exhausting or have trepidation about, such as presentations, business meetings, interviews, and flirting. Of course, there's nothing wrong with being an introvert. It's just important to either come to terms with that fact or make the conscious effort to take the dive.
What Can I Do to Be More Extroverted and Live Longer?
A big part of cultivating extroversion is to get yourself out of your comfort zone. If you are an introvert and don't like it, look at those around you that are more extroverted and try to emulate certain aspects of their social aspect. Sometimes just getting out there and putting yourself out in front of people is all you need to let the rush of endorphins carry you through the rest of your interaction.
Make the effort, at least once daily, to talk to someone that you wouldn't normally talk to. It's important to separate the concept of isolation wfrom that of introversion. You don't have to get out and be wild, you just have to get out and learn to enjoy yourself, even if you aren't as naturally gregarious as many of those that you find yourself in the company of.
Like all of the rest of the traits in this article—Learn to appreciate yourself while also facilitating incremental change!
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