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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

December 2011 

By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this new addition every month

 


 

ANXIETY’S UPSIDE

Why worrying might extend your life span

Are you jealous of optimistic, happy-go-lucky people? Don’t be. An eight decade Stanford University study of 1,500 people found that nonworriers don’t necessarily live longer; in fact, they often have a lackadaisical approach to health and may take risks that cut life short, such as smoking, excessive drinking, and driving too fast. “Worrying can be helpful,” says Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D., coauthor of The Longevity Project, which explores some of the study’s findings.

Some other surprises from the research: married men lived longer; but women didn’t see a marriage boost; continuously productive people live longer than their more laid-back counterparts; and pets may improve well-being – though they don’t increase longevity.

In 1921, before most of us were born, a remarkable study began tracking the loves and lives of 1500 Americans from childhood to death. The study continues even today, with research teams led by Howard Friedman still keeping tabs on the remaining few who are still alive and analyzing massive amounts of data to establish what it is about these 1500 individuals that led some to stay well and others to fall ill and die before their time.

What are the facts behind the popular exhortations to long life?

To Sickness or to Health? Love, Marriage, and Divorce.

“Get married to live longer.” Not necessarily so. The participants were divided into four groups: The remarried group, the steadily married, and the divorced or steadily single. It soon became apparent that analysis would have to be broken down to gender, male or female. Women showed fascinating and unexpected results. Like their male counterparts, steadily married women lived somewhat longer lives than those women who had divorced and then remarried.

The surprise emerged for women like Barbara who had gotten divorced and not remarried. These women didn’t fare nearly as badly as did their divorced male peers. They usually lived long lives. That is, a surprising number of women who divorced their husbands and then stayed single did fine – on average they lived nearly as long as their steadily married counterparts.

Careers, Success and Satisfaction. Thriving and Surviving.

“Relax.” “Avoid stress.” “Don’t work too hard.” Stress is not all it is cracked up to be. There is little or no direct substantiation that the challenges of daily life on the job suppress the immune system and thereby cause significant numbers of people to die from cancer and other immune-related diseases. Or that people who are heavily involved in their jobs or work long hours are more prone to heart disease.

It was evident that those participants with a stable and successful career were on a pathway to long life. Usually this increasing responsibility brings more challenges and a heavier workload, but paradoxically this is helpful to long-term health.

This does not mean that unbearable stress over long periods of time is not a problem. Combat veterans who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develop significant health problems. Some people face significant stress after years of workplace harassment with resulting poor health. Bit it is important to distinguish between severe chronic stress reactions and the usual kinds of stress we find at work or school.

Social Networks and Long Life

Social networks are beneficial to living longer. But you don’t have to be a social butterfly. With her extended family nearby, Linda saw most of her relatives at least once a month and had regular contact with some good friends whom she could talk to about health and career matters. James could count on his grown-up children to help with daily tasks. He felt they were genuinely interested in listening to him. He had some close friends with whom he would play cards, especially when he was worried or facing an important decision.

Barbara, the social worker, had a different kid of social support – that which comes from helping others. Her job involved connecting to others, but she also frequently assisted her church in organising community service projects. It gave her a chance to help her friends and neighbours directly, as well as to reach out to those in need beyond her immediate social circle.

Reading out these real-life participants in the study, I started to think about the people I know who are living well into their 90s and those who did. One has never married, another is a widow and the third, a widower. But a defining characteristic is a continuing interest in other people and events. All had to overcome debilitating assaults on their health, one with chronic back pain, another who suffered a nervous breakdown. The third suffered serious hearing loss which severely limited his plans for a chosen career. Resilience and inner resources put all three on the path to a long life.

Perhaps you may want to think about the 80 and 90 year olds you know. What characteristics do they have in common?

Resource: THE LONGEVITY PROJECT: Surprising discoveries for health and long life. Howard S. Friedman PhD and Leslie R. Martin PhD. Hay House UK Ltd.

 


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The above article is part of the features section of laterlife.com called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to laterlife.com written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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