THE TRAITS THAT HELP YOU LIVE LONG AND PROSPER
While doctors and health coaches cite diet and fitness as the main arbiters of health and longevity, the truth is that there is no one dietthat leads to long life. If you look at the populations around the world with the longest lifespans, you’ll find an incredible array of diets, from proponents of sweet potatoes, to caloric restriction, to all butter, all the time. So what actually determines long life? Well, your specific alleles are one determinant, and those you can’t change. What you can change, and what is strongly correlated with longevity, are your personality traits and characteristics. While some things are beyond individual control, there are traits that you can practice and nurture, so why not try?
Social connections have been linked to increased longevity. Meaningful connections, not just hundreds of Facebook friends. Real relationships with people that you interact with regularly provide a support network that helps lead to a longer life. On the other hand, socially isolated people tend to suffer from maladies such as obesity, hypertension, and increased blood clotting. As Mark Sisson says in his Huffington Post op-ed, “one of the prime directives of the human is to be social… to have friends and loved ones upon whom you can lean…”
Balanced conscientiousness may actually be the biggest factor in longevity. A recent study analyzed data that began in 1921 and followed a group of 1,500 children throughout their lives, and discovered that those children who were “persistent, prudent, and planful” went on to live the longest lives. Other studies have shown that conscientious people tend to take better care of themselves, and make better decisions regarding their long-term health. They may also deal with stress better, if only because they are more prepared for it.
Be easy going. People with longer lifespans have been shown to be calmer about stressors, allowing them to slide off their backs rather than obsessing over spilt milk. However, remember what we said about balance – make sure that your easy-going nature and conscientiousness work together so you don’t sweat the small stuff but are prepared for the big things.
Look on the bright side! Studies have linked optimism with longer lifespans, and have even shown it to be encoded into the human genome. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot says “optimism was selected by evolution precisely because, on balance, positive expectations enhance the odds of survival.”
Laughter really is the the best medicine. It reduces stress and boosts the part of your immune system responsible for fighting cancer. Basically, laughter has a positive and quantifiable effect on certain aspects of health.
Be happy! Happiness gives us something to live for, when we can wake up every day knowing that we’re going to enjoy it. Happiness and longevity was shown to be independent of baseline health status, but even those with chronic diseases saw benefits from being happy.
Finally, get out there and meet people! Extroversion is a “significant predictor of longevity, happiness, resistance to stress, and even mood regulation”. However, this benefit may occur because modern society favors extroversion. If you’re a happy introvert, you’ll likely be fine.
To read more about why these traits lengthen life, and to learn how to cultivate them, read 7 Characteristics Associated With Long Life (And How to Cultivate Them) by Mark Sisson.
Image Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões