that determine longevity?
An 8-decade study
draws important conclusions
about who lives the best, and longest, lives!
All the way back in 1921, Stanford Professor Dr. Lewis Terman launched a study intended to look at intellectual leadership. His primary interest was: high potential. Dr. Terman studied 1,500 hand-picked boys and girls (all born around 1910). The thing is, his interviews were so detailed that his study later became useful in another arena — longevity.
Who Lives the Longest?
Dr. Terman began his study by collecting a variety of information, such as:
- ▸ how many books were in the childrens’ homes
- ▸ how active they were at playtime
- ▸ how happy were their parents’ marriages
He measured their personalities, dispositions, and habits — and he followed them as they chose their careers and had their own families. His comprehensive work made it possible for researchers Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin to perform an 80-year study, though neither of them have even been alive 80 years! Their primary interest was: factors that impact longevity.
The Longevity Sample
Sure, 1,500 people is a relatively tiny sample size. One can also question the diversity of the sample, which appears to have been mostly white and middle class. Although, uniformity of sample makes sense in this case. The more controlled variables, the more accurate the study. The real problem with the lack of diversity is how well the findings can be extrapolated and applied to humanity as a whole. Either way, the sheer duration of the study should most certainly count for something!
Figuring Out Why Some People Live Longer
Unless two people started out exactly identical at birth, and one ate only broccoli while the other ate only fried steak, an accurate comparison is truly impossible (even then, they’d have to be locked in a room and provided with identical stimuli). The study of human health is exceedingly complex because we do not live in a vacuum. The factors that influence our overall health are too numerous to count — and it’s safe to say that many of these factors remain unknown. This is one of the great advantages of a study that spans a lifetime. With a life-long approach, researchers are able to determine which characteristics influence qualities, behaviors, and outcomes.
“8 decades of study allowed researches
to get a pretty clear picture
of participants’ habits and personalities”
What causes the well-being of people with similar backgrounds to diverge? Well, this type of study is arguably the best way to investigate such phenomena (short of a sample of millions of clones)!
The Longevity Study
Many studies are flawed because they rely too heavily on participants’ self-reports. This study does rely on quizzes to assess sociability, neuroticism, and the tendency to catastophrize. Of course, the one place where no self-report was necessary was lifespan itself.
By obtaining the participants’ death certificates, researchers could be quite certain how long they lived. They used statistical models, as well as examinations of personalities, social relations, and behaviors — matching them against lifespan and ultimate cause of death. No study is without flaw. This one had its share of moving pieces but, again, 8 decades of study allowed researches to get a pretty clear picture of participants’ habits and personalities — and when compared with lifespan — notable trends emerged. The Longevity Project
According to this study, those who lived the longest:
- ⊙ were philanthropic
- ⊙ were active
- ⊙ had thriving careers
- ⊙ had good family lives
- ⊙ were resilient to roadblocks and traumatic events
However, generally, they were also not the happiest of children. The study suggests that the most carefree, happy-go-lucky children had a tendency to grow up and throw caution to the wind — often taking up unhealthy and/or careless habits that ultimately shortened their lifespans. Conversely, the worriers grew up to develop more cautious, conscientious habits that ultimately lead to greater longevity.
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The Things We Think Are True, that Aren’t
One thing about this study is that the researchers started by erasing any preconceptions. They were looking for the truth, even if that meant disavowing some of our most commonly held beliefs about health.
Here are just a few alleged “myths” that they believe their findings thoroughly dispel:
- If your child is very serious, encourage him or her to be more spontaneous and have more fun
- Worrying is very bad for your health
- Give your children a big head start in school and they will thrive for life
- Thinking happy thoughts reduces stress and leads to long life
- If you believe that you are loved and cared for, then you are on the road to good health
- Retire as soon as you can and play more golf to stay healthy and live longer
- Get married and you will live longer
- You can live to be a hundred if only if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred
If you have a chance to take a look at the study, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!