Here are six factors research has identified as important in longevity amidst all the popular press headlines.
I have spent a significant amount of time researching longevity because I thought living forever sounded like a very good idea. (And frankly, it could also make a decent how-to ebook according to the research I did on Publisher Rocket.)
But, after spending a significant amount of time and resources on this research, I discovered science says — contrary to popular beliefs — there are really only a limited number of factors under our control.
Here are the basic factors research suggests controls our longevity.
The most important factor in living a long life is having parents who lived a long life too.
- In my case, my mother made 93 so I’m delighted with that. I’m not so delighted she struggled with Alzheimer’s for 16 of those years.
- On the other hand my father went down with congestive heart failure at 79. I’m less excited about that data although he was clear headed right to the end.
Do You Have A Reason To Live
The other key to having a long life is having a great reason to live.
If you can’t find any reason to get up in the morning, you won’t. If you are not involved with something bigger than you are, your life will shorten. The bottom line there is simply to get involved — it doesn’t matter with what. It doesn’t matter what your attitude or political stripe about it — just get involved with some cause or activity bigger than you are.
The cynic in me suggests the current state of world-wide politics may be keeping a great many senior alive and involved.
Human Biology and Exercise
One of the focal points for many of the longevity researchers is human biology.
After a ton of reading and browsing the literature, the bottom line is to take care of your body by exercising and working it regularly and wisely.
I note that wisely does not involve running marathons because the research has pointed out that running a marathon has the same effect on your heart as if you were having a heart attack.
Having said that, if you have a healthy heart, the odds of you having a heart attack during a marathon are low. Reported on WebMd from The New England Journal of Medicine
The Heart Institute wrote about Is long-distance running good for the heart?
“McCullough was part of the 2012 study that used MRIs to identify the long-distance runners whose right atrium and ventricle dilated immediately after a marathon and up to 24 hours later. It also included blood tests that showed an elevation in biomarkers that are indicators of heart stress and injury (my emphasis.)
“Our theory is that 25 percent of people are susceptible to this recurrent injury of the heart,” McCullough said. A smaller subset, he estimates about 1 percent, could be prone to scarring. Myocardial fibrosis, or scarring of the heart, can lead to heart failure.
A study published in 2017 on triathletes showed that 18 percent of the male participants, those who trained and competed the most, had more heart scarring than the other athletes.” Source
So while running marathons and extreme exercise may not be fully recommended for seniors, exercising and keeping a general fit body right up until the last few gasps of breath is perhaps the most critical thing in prolonging life.
“Exercise has proven benefits for older people. It reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, colon cancer, and breast cancer. It also decreases the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.” Source: National Institute of Health
Take care of your mind.
This means that you are going to constantly learn new things. Constantly push yourself to discover new things, new thoughts, and new information.
One of the most critical things to do is avoid hardening of the attitudes.
If you take a few seconds and think about your attitude as a teenager as you explored your world, found limits and pushed beyond them. This is what you must continue to do as a senior. It is only when you decide you’ve learned enough or you know enough that the attitudes begin to harden and then life constricts.
By Opening Yourself To Love.
It turns out that having a loving spouse is one of the most important guarantors of longevity. (Hey sweetie, we’re keeping each other alive! Or, as my father used to say, “Marriage doesn’t make you live longer, it just feels like it.”)
“But there is fascinating — and compelling — research suggesting that married people enjoy better health than single people. For example, as compared with those who are single, those who are married tend to:
• live longer
• have fewer strokes and heart attacks
• have a lower chance of becoming depressed
• be less likely to have advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis and more likely to survive cancer for a longer period of time
• survive a major operation more often. “
How Lucky Are You?
No research I found suggests luck has anything to do with longevity, but we all know random chance plays a large role. For example, what do you do about that crazy guy in the big SUV that was looking at his phone when he plowed into the rear of your stopped car. Or ran that red light. Or…
Or the young woman texting as she accelerated away from the stop sign without looking. (I was on a pedestrian crosswalk and saw her coming, slapped her hood with my hand as I jumped out of the way. She gave me an ugly look.)
As I have scrutinized the research and read some of the “experts” there are a significant number of supplements, specific exercises, and even physical experiments such as blood exchanges and prayers being recommended.
And many of them are recommended with a minimum of research or without any peer reviewed research at all. There is a lot of conjecture in the popular press with minimum data to back it up. My .02 is you do have to read the research yourself before jumping on any bandwagon (like getting blood transfusions from a younger person because mice seemed to become younger when they did it.)
But having said that…
In my opinion, while I wouldn’t object to extra years and would take advantage of them if offered, the point of life is not to extend it.
From my 71 year old point of view — the point of life is to live what you have and to make every moment count. It’s not “How long?” but “How well?”