How to Live Longer: Truths and Myths


Jess Oppenheimer and Shelley Smith Mydans, like most of the Terman participants, were interesting people who, when not at work, were involved with family, friends, and hobbies. Most married and stayed married, but a significant number did not. Some were extroverted and others unsociable. Some were impulsive and others prudent. Many of the Terman participants faced significant personal and social difficulties and did not make it into their seventies and eighties. Some of their life paths led to health and long life while others dramatically increased the risks of illness and premature death.

Do You Fit the Bill? Assess Yourself

Always amusing to us is the way that the most objective health scientists become personally caught up in this research. Whenever we present our scientific findings at a research conference, our fellow professionals immediately try to see if they themselves fit the profile of the long-lived. Although the ability to predict health outcomes in any individual case is limited, it is possible to recognize patterns that can lead to meaningful changes. So throughout this book we present relevant measures and risk assessments—self-quizzes, if you will. Often these include some of the same questions Dr. Terman used decades ago. These assessments also serve to provide a deeper understanding of the ideas we're discussing. For example, here is a typical question (on one of the measures):

I am persistent in the accomplishment of my work and ends.

Very true of me 5 4 3 2 1 Not true of me

In particular, we present quizzes and measures (and scoring) that you can use to assess yourself:

• Are you conscientious in a health-relevant sense? • Do you have a sociable personality? And are you a good emotional communicator? • Are you a moody worrier? • Are you a gloomy Chicken Little? • Did your early education predispose you to long life? • Are you satisfied with your life in a way that impacts your health? • How physically active are you—on a scientific measure? • If married, how happy is your marriage? • How healthy is your job (for you)? • How do you score on three key measures of social relationships, and especially on the scale most relevant to long life? • How does your level of religiosity (or lack thereof) impact your health? • How masculine or feminine are you? • Are you at risk from health-harming chronic stress?

The "Termanators"

As they grew older, the children in Dr. Terman's study recognized that they were in a special group and in a special study, although no one thought the study would last more than ten or twenty years, much less for eight decades. Giving their identity a special name, they cleverly called themselves "Terman's Termites" or, more simply, "the Termites."

We sometimes use this nickname, "Termites," when referring to the participants in Terman's project. But there are dangers: at one scientific conference, we attempted to present a technical display called "The Longevity of the Termites," but the conference attendees simply ignored us, walking right by our informative exhibit. They evidently assumed that we were entomologists studying wood-eating social insects. Now we are more careful in our terminology.

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