How to Live Longer: Truths and Myths


--The best of men cannot suspend their fate: The good die early, and the bad die late. (Myth!) --Get married and you will live longer. (Myth!) --Take it easy and don't work so hard and you will stay healthier. (Myth!) --Thinking happy thoughts reduces stress and leads to long life. (Myth!) --Religious people live longer, so don't miss religious services. (Myth!) --If you have hobbies like gardening, walking, and cooking, you should take up more vigorous forms of exercise. (Myth!) --Worrying is very bad for your health. (Myth!) --If you believe that you are loved and cared for, then you are on the road to good health. (Myth!) --Retire as soon as you can and play more golf to stay healthy and live longer. (Myth!) --If your child is very serious, encourage him or her to be more spontaneous and have more fun. (Myth!) --Give your children a big head start in school and they will thrive for life. (Myth!) --You can live to be a hundred only if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred (as Woody Allen is said to have joked). (Myth!)

Most books about health and longevity are cookbooks -- literally or figuratively. When they aren't giving you recipes (start Week 1 with spinach sautéed in garlic and olive oil) and food lists (an apple a day), they're offering a list of ten dos and don'ts (do exercise for thirty minutes four times a week; don't let your weight rise above a certain ratio to your height).

Exercise, diet, stress, and weight are indeed relevant to health, but in ways that vary from person to person. Lists of dos and don'ts are nearly impossible for most of us to follow for days, months, and years. Thankfully, the Terman study participants showed us that struggling with lists of specific health rules is unnecessary. The Terman men and women were born decades before running shoes, designer spas, and fancy medical tests were invented, yet many lived long, healthy lives. We'll show why.

The point of describing our findings is not to lay out the factors that are likely to leave you the last one standing. Most of us, after all, would not wish to live extra years if they were years of constant decline and pain. But the fact is, those who live longer are also generally healthier throughout their lives. Most people who live to old age do so not because they have beaten cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease; rather, the long-lived have mostly avoided serious ailments altogether.

Because Dr. Terman began studying his participants when they were very young, many of the insights that emerged are helpful not only to adults looking to get on a healthier life path but also to those hoping to set their children on a good track. Many of our findings can help people rethink the potential long-term effects of their parenting decisions, as well as promote their whole family's future health, happiness, and well-being.

We found that those who are healthier tend to be happier, and those who are happier tend to be healthier—but not for the reasons you might first imagine! The lives of the Terman participants open a new window to understanding the intriguing relationship between health and happiness. Our research yielded powerful suggestions for cultivating not only a long life but also a successful, meaningful, and productive life.

The Amazing Study

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