I finished a very fascinating book over Spring Break called the Longevity Project–Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark EIGHT-DECADE STUDY by Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin. In 1921, a Stanford University psychologist, Dr. Lewis Terman, began a study of around 1500 gifted school children, looking at the sources of intellectual leadership and if he could identify early hints of high potential. His research was very thorough and the study itself actually went on for eight decades, becoming a study of longevity. Psychologists Friedman and Martin use the Terman study to explore the question of who lives the longest and why. They end up taking on many of the common beliefs we have about longevity such as:
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!)
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 your child is very serious, encourage him or her to be more spontaneous and have more fun. (Myth!)
The Longevity Project is intriguing to me because, frankly, I’m interested in sticking around on the Earth for awhile and Eric Barker at Barking up the Wrong Tree recommended this book. It takes you through a number of self-tests that illuminate your own best paths to longer life and rather than dictating that one go off and train for marathons or simply de-stress your life, it’s advice is workable.
Prior to November/December 2011, my life had derailed a bit. My dreams of new career opportunities in New Orleans hadn’t quite materialized the way I had hoped and neither had the New Orleans experience. A toxic work environment led to too much eating (lots of good food in these parts), drinking (I used to think those that lived with the bitter cold winters of Northern Michigan drank a lot!) and not enough exercise–and rather than just being overweight, I was a couple of pounds into obese. But that fall, I was back on a more healthy track, my engine starting to chug along. I had lost 20 pounds between August 1 and Thanksgiving and I was at a new school that I was cautiously optimistic about. I had cut back on the drinking and eating, but I still wasn’t exercising regularly or living the kind of balanced life that I wanted. However, I felt that I was heading in the right direction.
Then came the cancer diagnosis, treatment and physical recovery where I listened to my needs, put my health as a priority, reached out to family and friends and healed physically. At the end of the summer I felt that I was on a healthier path, I had seen the worst and things were good. However, when the fall of 2012 hit, I was in a very unhappy, unhealthy funk. It was like I had arrived at a party for me and everyone had already gone home. I had felt that arriving a year out of my diagnosis would find me in a good place, grooving on life, grateful to have made it to a year post diagnosis. Instead I was crying almost everyday and very unhappy.
To make a long story short, these past 6 months I have been gradually taking back and reclaiming a healthier me. I’ve been adding more physical activity, strengthening my social networks and setting goals. Creating this healthier path, according to The Longevity Study, could increase my chances at a longer life.
Many of the Terman children were on a very healthy trajectory in the first third of their lives–they were more physically active (especially the boys), were well-adjusted, and had many friends and teammates…it was those who started active and stayed active, and those who started out less active but increased (and maintained) their activity, who lived the longest.
Staying physically active was clearly important to good health and long life. But it was those whose habits, routines, and social networks encouraged movement and made it difficult to sit in one place who did well….An analogous finding emerged with conscientiousness. It was those who were conscientious as children and who remained highly persistent and prudent as adults who lived the longest…it was those who stayed on the healthiest paths, plus those who found their ways to the healthiest paths, who thrived in the second half of life.”
Conscientious since I was a child? Check. Active as a child and much of my 20s and 30s? Check. Strong social networks? Family, consistently, and other social networks throughout my life have ebbed and flowed.
Here’s the thing. If I can get a mastectomy, take Tamoxifen for five years, get a shot of Ortho Depot every three months and have my doctors on speed dial since I see them so regularly, I also have to contribute to my health by following a better path than before I was diagnosed with cancer if this is going to have any lasting effect.
More from Friedman and Martin:
It was not good cheer or being popular and outgoing that made the difference. It was also not those who took life easy, played it safe, or avoided stress who lived the longest. Rather, it was those who–through an often-complex pattern of persistence, prudence, hard work, and close involvement with friends and communities–headed down meaningful, interesting life paths and, as we have illustrated, found their way back to these healthy paths each time they were pushed off the road.
I feel that I am reclaiming my healthier life path after I was so rudely pushed off by cancer. And that feels good!