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Head habits that make you live longer

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In 1921, a Stanford University Psychologist began what would become an 80-year study of the habits that boost longevity. Rosie Brogan presents a snapshot of his findings.

In May this year, one of the most impressive longevity studies ever undertaken made its way into book form and was published here in Australia.

First begun in the 1920s by Stanford University Psychologist Dr Lewis Terman, ‘The Terman Study’ performed in-depth research into the lives of almost 1,500 Americans born in roughly 1910.

Following Terman’s death, two more psychologists, Dr Howard Friedman and Dr Leslie R. Martin, picked up the trail of Terman’s work. They’ve spent the last 20 years analysing results and determining which habits led study participants to live the longest lives. The scientists’ findings were surprising.

As they write in their book The Longevity Project: “The long lived among them…were individuals with certain constellations of habits and patterns of living. Their personalities, career trajectories, and social lives proved highly relevant to their long-term health, often in ways we did not expect.”

In a nutshell: it’s not enough to focus on your body. Of equal importance is to focus on your families, work and social relations. 

“It makes no sense to think of a human body merely as an engine that needs to be oiled and tuned or as a plant that needs to be watered and fed. At its essence, individual health depends on social health.”

The habits that help you live longer

Being persistent and reliable

Being perfectly suited to one’s job did not always predict a longer life. Instead it was again the thoughtful planning, sense of control and accomplishment, and perseverance that helped.”

Having healthy people around you

For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path to change… The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become.”

Make exercise a part of your social lifestyle, not a chore

It was not those who made a resolution to run more who succeeded. Rather it was those whose habits, routines and social networks encouraged movement and made it difficult to sit in one place who did well.”

Worry the right way

For many people, nagging thoughts and irksome concerns were important to heading toward better health… Unless your worrying is disrupting your friendships or impairing your work, it can come in handy (and be health promoting) when you’re facing serious challenges needing thoughtful consideration.

References available on request