Our piece on longevity and mental outlook aired Tuesday night. You can find a version of it here.
One of the things we found dates back decades. Since 1986 a group at the University of Kentucky has been coordinating what’s become known as "the Nun Study." They’ve monitored nuns at convents around the country, trying to see what contributes to longevity.
They looked at essays the participants had written back in their twenties, before they began the convent life. Psychologists went through those essays, rating them for levels of optimism.
Not surprisingly, the optimists lived better and longer –- but nobody expected to see how large the difference was. They lived, on average, ten years longer than their peers.
Does that mean you’re stuck with the mental outlook you form in youth? Not necessarily. If you’ve never read The Relaxation Response or other books by Dr. Herbert Benson, they’re still easy to find. Benson is one of many who says people can learn to undo the stresses that would otherwise wear down their cardiovascular and immune systems.
(One quick answer to a worthwhile question posted this afternoon: Wealthier people do tend to live longer, but it’s not only because they get better medical care. I’ve seen plenty of research suggesting CEOs do well because they feel in control. And there’s other research suggesting depression or genetics can undo the benefits of money.)
Pat had a good question about ointments that contain antibiotics. The answer (gotten in a rush) seems to be that it’s fine to go ahead and use them. To an extent, they may contribute to the problem of resistance to antibiotics, but the over-the-counter versions are so diluted that the effect is tiny. If I find out more I’ll let you know.