Live Long And Well

Sure, exercise and diet are important. But the people close to you matter, too.

You have probably seen lists of 100 things you should do to live long and well in good health to age 100. But you probably did not read them! I do not mind that such lists exist, and the list makers are often kind enough to cite our own extensive research on The Longevity Project.

However, there is an easier, more effective way to thrive in good health. It’s not exactly a cheat sheet, but a more fundamental way to achieve the same thing—and much more effective.

For many years, I and my colleagues and students in the Longevity Project have been studying more than 1,500 bright American men and women who were first examined as children by psychologist Lewis Terman in the 1920s. They were followed for their whole lives, and we have evaluated how well they grew and aged, and how long they lived.

We ask: Who lives long, healthy, and thriving lives, and why?

Surprisingly, you probably already know all the basics. But you just do not do them, because you have not yet found the pathway that is most suitable for you. (Do not ask centenarians what they think and do. They laugh a lot; you can laugh too if you thrive to 100, but that does not help you reach 100!)

There are core elements that contribute to the live long and well lifestyle. Here are 7 tips for thriving while maintaining optimal health:

  1. Develop good social ties with a healthy community. The first tip is most important because it helps with the others. Are you close with an extended healthy family, or with a volunteer social group or prosocial religious community? Do you have a worthwhile career or positive educational endeavor? Great.
  2. Stay physically active in whatever way works for you. Do anything but stay sitting! And no, you do not have to do yoga, run marathons, or go deep-sea fishing if those things bore or bother you.
  3. Forget tobacco and substance abuse. But you already know that—and chain smokers are probably not reading this column.
  4. Be responsibly prudent. Consider the things your mother, teachers, and doctors and nurses advised—from wearing seatbelts to protecting against sexually transmitted diseases and keeping up with medical visits.
  5. Avoid obesity. Eat proper amounts of nutritious food. You know what is possible for you.
  6. Have a best friend. Or two.
  7. Have something worthwhile or meaningful that you do in your life.

That’s it.

Everything else follows from these. I am not saying it is easy to accomplish. That’s why there are winners and losers. Often we slip, and sometimes you just have bad luck. Most of the time, thriving need not be complicated or unbearably burdensome. In our research, we are studying the best ways to get on these healthy pathways (and stay on them).

Of course, if you really want 93 additional tips, look around and you can find endless exhortations that you will never follow. Who can follow advice to “be happy”?! How likely are you suddenly to take up a musical instrument? (If you do, post a comment for us.) Perhaps you hate broccoli.

Finally, let me note the irony: If you are conscientious enough actually to read through a seemingly endless list of 100 ways to live to 100, then you do not need the list. You are most likely already doing the most important things you need to do.

The Longevity Project, which explains the long-term pathways to thriving, was published in paperback edition by Plume and is also available on Kindle and Nook. The book contains self-assessment quizzes to help you figure your current trajectory.

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