The Secret to Longevity
It's not exercising more...
Photo credit: Creative Commons
When I was younger, I thought achieving my big goals — financial security, a promotion, getting married, having children, growing my company — was the key to my happiness. Now the only big goal I have is to live a longer, happy and healthy life.
So I eat healthy foods, don’t drink, sleep if I can, exercise regularly, and am more aware of the stressors in my life, which I do my best to mitigate with a host of helpful tools.
Is this enough to guarantee me a long, happy and healthy life? Nope. Or at least not according to tons of research.
Apparently, the secret elixir is good relationships. Positive and meaningful connections with others keep us healthier, happier, living longer and sharp in old age.
The longest study of adult life tells us why so many people we know in their 80s and 90s are doing well.
The study started tracking the lives of 724 men in 1938. The Harvard Study of Adult Development included two cohorts: Harvard students and teenagers from poor and working-class Boston neighbourhoods. The men went on to all walks of life — one became President of the United States — some became alcoholics or suffered from mental illness.
About six years ago, 2000 children of the study participants joined, along with many wives. Every two years, all the participants fill out questionnaires and have medical exams, blood tests, and interviews that provide, and will continue to provide, reams of data. The original participants who are still living are now in their 90s. When they were in their 80s, the study looked back to when the happiest and healthiest in the group were in their 50s to determine the indicators for health and happiness in their later years.
Researchers found a person’s social connections and positive relationships were the key determinants of longevity. Also, the most satisfied people in their relationships at 50 were the healthiest and happiest at 80. This look back to when the participants were 50 found social connections are good for us, and loneliness is toxic and leads to a shorter life span. Good relationships protect our bodies and keep our minds sharper.
Yeah, we know a good relationship today makes us feel better on many levels. But what most of us probably haven’t considered is the importance of relationships in the context of our future well-being into our 80s and 90s.
Knowing those good relationships For sure, the relationship with our spouse or partner has the most beneficial impact for most of us and is the best predictor that we will be healthy and happy well into old age. But close and meaningful relations with friends, family, and our broader community are also essential for our future health and happiness.
While our primary relationships are with our partners, we can’t expect one person to fill all our social needs. That’s where our good friends come in. You know the people you can call at three in the morning if you had to but never would. The friend to whom you can say you hate everything about your life, and they will listen to you rant because three days earlier they felt the same way, and you listened to them and made them a cup of coffee.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it made the heavy price we pay for loneliness and social isolation crystal clear. We have never experienced social isolation on the scale we did these past two years. Many of us have witnessed firsthand how devasting it has been for socially isolated seniors.
Neuroscientists Danilo Bzdok and Robin Dunbar, in a study published in 2020 entitled The Neurobiology of Social Distance, give an overview of the growing body of research on social isolation.
“Over recent years, evidence emerging from various disciplines has made it abundantly clear: perceived social isolation (i.e. loneliness) may be the most potent threat to survival and longevity.”
People who have close and meaningful relationships and engage in social activities — belonging to a club; going out with friends; being active in the community — are happier and more fulfilled. They experience less depression and anxiety.
Here’s to good and enduring relationships and our long, happy and healthy lives.
Happy Mother’s Day. It is the day that honours the role I am most proud of. I am not a perfect mother but I hope I gave my kids the gift of courage and love and more. Motherhood is a windy road for some. For those of you who may feel lonely today, or who had a horrible mother, a mother who died, or who wanted to be a mother but didn't have kids, or had kids who broke your heart, I send you my love. And if you know someone one who might be having a less than stellar Mother’s Day give them a call.
And please check out the next instalment of LETTERS FROM SECOND PENINSULA always a heartfelt read.