How to Live Longer: Truths and Myths

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Still, of utmost importance throughout our work has been the effort to confirm that findings from our studies are highly informative for a general understanding of health and longevity. We therefore have spent much time and effort evaluating whether our results are more widely applicable. The answer is yes. We have used a number of scientific techniques to confirm this point. To validate old scales and measures, we conducted comparison studies using contemporary measures from contemporary samples of young people. We have used various statistical tests and adjustments to see if any significant limits would arise from our particular samples of participants. And, before drawing any firm conclusions, we have always compared our findings to what is more broadly known from other research.

As they grew into middle age, the Terman participants were a productive, intelligent segment of twentieth-century middle-class America. They lived through depression, war, and prosperity. They were engineers, businesspeople, housewives, lawyers, administrators, writers, teachers, and all sorts of other blue- and white-collar workers. Most were not particularly notable on a national scale, although you might recognize a few names. None won a Nobel Prize, became a national political leader, or joined the superrich, although some were very prominent in their fields of endeavor. Some died young and some lived to be a hundred.

One of the accomplished individuals in our study was Jess Oppenheimer, who worked with Lucille Ball to create the I Love Lucy show. Although the information in the data archives is strictly confidential, some of the Terman participants proudly identified themselves as part of the project. Mr. Oppenheimer was one of the best known. Oppenheimer was born in San Francisco in 1913 and lived to age seventy-five. He spent most of his adult life in the entertainment business in Los Angeles. In the 1960s, after I Love Lucy, Jess worked on the comedy series Get Smart. He married, had children, and later wrote about his career. One hint of his broad-ranging intelligence was that he received a patent in the 1950s for his work on a teleprompterlike device, which Lucy used in reading commercials while looking into the camera lens.

The case of Jess Oppenheimer gives a good illustration of the general biographies of the people we have studied. They grew up in California and often remained there. The male participants gravitated toward what they saw as the interesting industries of the twentieth century—education, engineering, broadcasting, law, finance, aviation, and sales. Many were financially successful but many others were not. There were many clerks and some artists, policemen, and technicians. One became a truck driver.

The women, however, were often limited in their early careers by the societal expectations of the 1930s and 1940s. Accordingly many became housewives, teachers, librarians, or secretaries. But not Shelley Smith. Ms. Smith (Stanford Class of 1936) went to work for Life magazine, where she met and married the photographer Carl Mydans. Covering World War II in Asia, she was captured by the Japanese in Manila and spent many months in a prisoner-of-war camp. Yet she lived a long life and died in 2002 at age eighty-six, survived by her husband, a son, a daughter, four grandchildren, and even one great-grandchild.ii

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