THE LONGEVITY PROJECT
BY HOWARD S. FRIEDMAN AND LESLIE R. MARTIN
Do you know any thriving 80 and 90-year-old-plus friends? If so, they likely know, at least inherently, the secrets revealed in The Longevity Project, a recently published book summarizing findings from a study conducted to help understand why some people live long and prosper, while others struggle with health issues and die “before their time.”
In The Longevity Project (published by Hudson Street Press, March 2011), University of Riverside health researchers Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin draw conclusions on human development based on data from the study which began in 1910 tracking the lives of more than 1,500 people.
What they’ve found turns more than a few conventional ideas on their heads.
Does stress cause us to die younger? Yes, says the study, if the stress is due to unsatisfactory jobs or failing to live up to our youthful potential. But for many who’ve found work to be fulfilling life goes on . . . and on and on.
Is being happy a key to a long life? On the surface, it might seem so, but if your happiness is a result of an unrealistic worldview—you’re a party animal or someone looking for a perpetual “high”—your life can be cut short as a result unwise habits or the inability to cope with difficult situations.
Among the myths debunked in this book are:
- The good die early, and the bad die late (myth)
- Don’t work so hard and you will stay healthier (myth)
- Happy thoughts reduce stress and lead to long life (myth)
- You need to take up more vigorous forms of exercise (myth)
- Retire as soon as you can and play more golf to stay healthy and live longer (myth)
According to Friedman, “The 1,500 or so bright boys and girls selected by [Stanford University researcher] Dr. [Robert] Terman were born around 1910. Almost all of them are now gone. We have documented when and how they died, and we have studied their lives in meticulous detail. Although many died by their sixties, many others aged in good health and lived well into old age.” What made the difference had more to do with their “habits and patterns of living,” along with their “personalities, career trajectories, and social lives” than with any other common factors.
The Longevity Project, says UCI professor Elizabeth Loftus, shows us “how important it is to be persistent, responsible and conscientious.” Dr. Andrew Weil found the book “a compelling and objective assessment of character traits associated with longevity.” And The Wall Street Journal observed that the book explains “why a host of factors—including persistence, prudence . . . and close involvement with friends and communities—can improve health and longevity.”
In other words, our chances of having a long, healthy life improve significantly when we live it deliberately, according to a master plan—say, something like The Daniel Plan. In reviewing The Longevity Project himself, our own Dr. Daniel Amen took special note of these findings:
- Community matters! Your social relationships dramatically impact your health. The group you associate with often determines the type of person you become.iii For people who want to improve their health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path to change.iv
- Strong predictors include:
- Hard work and accomplishment, or ambition vs. “taking it easy”: those most disappointed in their life’s achievements died the youngest. In fact, the carefree, undependable, non-ambitious, and those significantly unsuccessful in their careers had a whopping increase in mortality. Too much carefree and carelessness “living” can literally kill you!
- How you react to life’s storms – answering a loss with drinking, depression, anxiety, or other extreme behavior will kill you early. On the other hand, an overly optimistic, carefree attitude may encourage us to underestimate risks and approach health in a lackadaisical fashion.
Those of us who want to be happy and healthy octa and nonogenerians, The Longevity Project tells us, need to focus on lives that include:
- Thoughtful planning and perseverance
- Building healthy friendships—with healthy friends!
- Being prudent, persistent achievers with stable families and social support
- A sense of control and accomplishment
- Habits, routines, and social networks that encouraged movement
- Having an appropriate level of concernv
Fold these factors into your new Daniel Plan lifestyle and your personal longevity project potential increases exponentially.