life expectancy

Young people cycling together in the park

Bullet Points For Increased Life Expectancy

The secret to longevity has baffled people for years. There are nonagenarians who swear by their cigars, and centenarians who swear cigars off like the plague. There are octogenarians who ski every day and skiers who fracture their hips on a tough trail. There are healthy eaters who live long, and then there are the French who drink red wine and red meat and remain hale and hearty as horses. If anything is clear about the secret to longevity, its that it is unclear, however, that’s not going to stop anyone from trying to find it. If you’re among those making an effort to do so, scientists may have a few clues to point you in the right direction. Here are a few of the things that research has discovered about longevity.

Your Personality Plays A Role
The Longevity Project is a eight decade spanning study dedicated to the baffling secret of long life. During that time, Stanford researchers Leslie R. Martin and Howard S. Friedman have discovered a few things about personality’s effects on life expectancy. According to them, “The qualities of a prudent, persistent, well organized person, like a scientist professor – somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree” are more likely to be present in a person who reaches old age. “Many of us assume that more relaxed people live longer, but that’s not necessarily the case.” Apparently conscientious people are more likelier to make healthier choices about work, marriage, and daily habits..

Your Diet Comes Into Play
When it comes to diet, it seems that those who reside in the Mediterranean, and follow the diet of the area, are the most likely to make it into their twilight years. The diet, which consists largely of vegetables, nuts, fruits, and olive oil has been linked to lower risk for heart disease and even protection from memory loss.

Genetics
It may come as no surprise that your parents’ life spans may give you an idea about what yours is likely to be. The autopsy of a 115- year- old woman revealed stem cell exhaustion as a reason for death. This means the woman remained healthy until her cells literally gave out. Other research shows that some people are less prone to diseases or have levels of chemicals, like dopamine and seratonin in the brain that may attribute to superior bodily functions.

Education
If you find yourself with an extra four years at the end, those may be the years you spent in college. A 2012 report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found that those with bachelor’s degrees or higher, can live about nine years longer than those who didn’t finish high school. According to health economist, James Smith, educated people make better plans for their future, get better jobs, and make healthier lifestyle choices.

Work Stress May Not Be A Factor
If you think “your job is killing you,” it may not be. According to the Longevity Study, long lives and hard work are not mutually exclusive. The authors say, “We found that productive, hardworking people are not stressed and miserable, but tend to be happier, healthier, and more socially connected than their less productive peers.”

Do you have any clues for us about the path to longevity? We’re dying to hear them.

Senior woman smiling at her caregiver

A Generous Heart May Help You Live Longer

Usually, when it is said of someone that he or she has a good heart, it means that someone is generous, or caring. That they take time out to do unto others. However, in more literal terms, a good heart is associated with good cardiovascular health. Having a good heart means quite simply that your heart is in good condition. But, could they be one and the same? New studies show that volunteering, besides being mentally beneficial, can also have a positive impact on physical health. Need evidence? Here are what some experts are saying about how having a good heart can lead to having a good heart.

Mental and Physical Benefits
Anyone who has ever volunteered knows how mentally and emotionally rewarding it can be. Not only do volunteers feel as if they have made a positive change, studies show that donating time can lead to a feeling of greater social connectedness, and less depression and loneliness. However, new evidence reveals that people who volunteer may also be gifted with long lifespans and low blood pressure readings.

A study from Carnegie Mellon University, published in this month’s edition of Psychology and Aging, shows that those who give time to others may have better health than those who do not. Findings revealed that adults over 40 who volunteered regularly were at a lower risk for high blood pressure than those who did not volunteer. High blood pressure is an accurate health indicator because it is linked to stroke, heart disease, and premature death.

Because it is possible that volunteers may also take part in other health conscious activities, such as exercise and healthy eating, it is not possible to prove that volunteering was the sole reason for the lower blood pressure readings, but the results do seem to point in that direction.

woman working at animal shelter

How It Works
If you are wondering how exactly volunteering contributes to better health and longer life, Rodlescia Sneed, lead author of the Carnegie Mellon study, may have some insight on the phenomena. One explanation may be the increased physical activity volunteering can provide for those who are not otherwise very active. Another may be stress reduction. According to Sneed, “Many people find volunteer work to be helpful with respect to stress reduction, and we know that stress is very strongly linked with health outcomes.”

If you are thinking of volunteering, and want to know how to get the maximum benefits from your do-gooding, Carnegie Mellon is on top of it. According to the study, it takes 200 hours of volunteering annually to reap the rewards of low blood pressure, although other studies have found as little as 100 hours will do the trick. As for types of volunteering, that remains unknown. However, Sneed speculates that it is the more mentally stimulating activities, like reading and tutoring, that lead to sharper thinking and memory skills, whereas “activities that promote physical activity would be helpful with respect to cardiovascular health, but no studies have really explored this.”

In conclusion, one thing does seem clear; the best results of volunteering come when it is done for the right reasons. A 2012 study published in the Health Psychology journal found that those who benefitted most from volunteer work were those whose intentions were altruistic. In other words, it has to come from the heart if the rewards are going to end up there.

Do you do volunteer work? How do you find it affects you? Let us know what you’re doing for others and what you think it might be doing for you!