Greatest Predictor of Longevity
What in your lifestyle can predict how long you will live? Is it:
- eating a clean diet with proper amounts of nutrients
- maintaining your ideal body weight
- exercising the right amount and in the right way
If you said all of them, or two of the three, can you rank these lifestyle factors in order of importance?
Or is there something else you would include?
Could there be something else works as well or better than having these three things ideal?
What about a positive attitude?
Don’t take my word, see what this Yale research study of 660 people aged 50 and more found out:
This research found that older individuals with more positive self-perceptions of aging, measured up to 23 years earlier, lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions of aging.
They add, this advantage remained when they took into account:
- socioeconomic status
- functional health
What did they ask?
They used a questionnaire called Attitudes Toward Own Aging that consisted of agreeing or disagreeing with these questions:
- “Things keep getting worse as I get older”
- “I have as much pep as I did last year”
- “As you get older, you are less useful”
- “I am as happy now as I was when I was younger”
- “As I get older, things are (better / worse / or the same) as I thought they would be.”
To score it, reverse the scores for questions 1 and 3. For each agreement, score 1 and for each no score 0. The last question is scored 1 for “better” and 0 for “worse” and “the same.” This leaves us with a range from 0 to 5, with 5 being the most positive.
Did any other studies find the same trend?
Mayo Clinic also studied the affect of pessimism on mortality rates. They followed 723 patients for 30 years, and a “10-point T-score increase on the Optimism-Pessimism scale,” that is, becoming more pessimistic, was associated with a 19% increase in the risk of mortality.
In addition, Mayo Clinic studied college students, and followed them for 40 years to determine the effect of optimism/pessimism on death from all causes. They found that those in the third toward optimism tended to live longer and those in the third towards pessimism died sooner.
How does attitude compare to other factors?
The 7.5 years of additional life is not a little thing, in fact, it is greater than the increase in longevity from other lifestyle factors.
- 4 years or less from the physiological measures of low systolic blood pressure and cholesterol (Friedman et al., 1995).
- 1 to 3 years from the independent contribution of no history of smoking, and a tendency to exercise (Fraser & Shavlik, 2001)
- and, in fact inactivity in older adults is more related to deaths than body weight : “Fitness predicted mortality risk after further adjustment for smoking, baseline health, and either BMI, waist circumference, or percent body fat.” (JAMA 2007)
From Longevity to Quality of Life
Optimists, those that focus on the best future scenario, are healthier physically and mentally. Researchers from Mayo Clinic followed 447 people starting in the 1960’s, ending over 30 years later. They used a 36 item Health Survey (SF-36), and found
Scores on all 8 health concept domains from the SF-36 were significantly poorer in the pessimistic group than in both the optimistic and the mixed group.
Is it surprising?
A positive outlook may offer the strongest protection against heart disease in adults at risk due to family history. A John Hopkins study proved this. Over seven and one-half years, they measured heart “events” including sudden death, a heart attack and unstable chest pain that required surgery and found that those with a good attitude were only half as likely to have an “event” than the pessimists. This result was across the board regardless of age, sex, or race. This result even held up to adjusting for traditional risk factors including cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and increased weight.
An explanation? “It’s possible that the people with positive attitude produce lower levels of stress hormones, which helps protect them from disease,” says Diane M. Becker, Sc.D., M.P.H., senior author of the study and director of Hopkins’ Center for Health Promotion.
Is there a way to tell how optimistic I am?
The Life Orientation Test was developed to be used in research to assess “individual differences in generalized optimism versus pessimism.” You can quickly and easily do it to get real to your level of optimism. This is how it goes:
Please be as honest and accurate as you can throughout. Try not to let your response to one statement influence your responses to other statements. There are no “correct” or “incorrect” answers. Answer according to your own feelings, rather than how you think “most people” would answer.
A = I agree a lot
B = I agree a little
C = I neither agree nor disagree
D = I DISagree a little
E = I DISagree a lot
- In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.
- It’s easy for me to relax.
- If something can go wrong for me, it will.
- I’m always optimistic about my future.
- I enjoy my friends a lot.
- It’s important for me to keep busy.
- I hardly ever expect things to go my way.
- I don’t get upset too easily.
- I rarely count on good things happening to me.
- Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad.
Note: Items 2, 5, 6, and 8 are fillers. Responses to “scored” items are to be coded so that high values imply optimism.
What Determines How Optimistic I Am?
When certain thoughts and feelings are continuously evoked they become a habit, so that the next time the same circumstances come around, the same thoughts and feelings are automatic and they become an attitude. If you repeat or maintain this attitude long enough, it becomes a belief and it becomes hardwired into the brain and emotionally conditioned into your body. Beliefs are hard to change because of they become wired into a subconscious program. Now, when related beliefs group together, they form your perception. Your level of optimism or pessimism is based on your long-standing beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings which has become the subconscious and unconscious view of events from your past.
Wow, so to maintain this, the brain automatically edits the intake of reality to fit the remembered perceptions. In one study detailed in the book The Formation and Transformation of the Perceptual World, observers wore goggles with tinted lenses so that when they looked left everything appeared blue and looking right everything appeared yellow. After a period of time, their brain filled in with memories of how it looked, and there was no longer the blue and yellow tint. In addition, a study showed that the way we perceive the environment is in a way the reinforces how we feel. Aaron Beck wrote about this in Cognitive Therapy and The Emotional Disorders.
If you want to change a subconscious perception, you must become more conscious of what you were once unconscious about. This pretty much leads us to what I wrote about You Are Not Your Brain.
Where are you on the scale of Optimism / Pessimism? Please comment below.
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