Living to 100 or more may be a matter of the lifestyle choices you make.

From Marian Anne Eure, former About.com Guide
About.com Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by our Medical Review Board




Living to a healthy and happy ripe old age, may not be a matter of genetic predisposition or just dumb luck. A study is published in the June 2001 American Journal of Psychiatry, the monthly scientific journal of the American Psychiatric Association that points to personal choice as being the defining factor in determining a person's longevity.
This study tracked the physical and mental health of 724 men over a 60-year period beginning in 1940. It contrasted the mental and physical health status of 268 Harvard sophomores with that of 456 socially disadvantaged inner-city adolescents. Physical exams were conducted every five years, and psychosocial exams were conducted every two years.


The study identified seven factors that appeared to predict successful aging: moderate alcohol use, no smoking, a stable marriage, exercise, appropriate weight, positive coping mechanisms, and no depressive illness. Depression was the only factor that affected the quality of aging which was beyond individual control.


The researchers found that the health of the inner-city men declined more rapidly than did the health of the Harvard men; their health status at age 65 matched that of the Harvard men at age 75. However, the health of 25 inner-city men who obtained a college education declined at the same rate as the Harvard group. The investigators concluded that education - not money and social prestige - made the difference. Education appeared to give these men the resources they needed to make better lifestyle choices and to therefore maintain health and happiness for a much longer time.


Other studies, not as extensive in their scope have also pointed to higher levels of education and active involvement in a loving family relationship as being the greatest determining factors in longevity.


Life expectancy has been extended in the US for the most part due to the eradication of many infectious diseases, improved early diagnostic technologies and medication advancements. Unfortunately many unwise lifestyle choices have made those extended years more difficult and costly. This translates into more years of expensive medications, assisted living and direct medical costs. These studies have shown that positive lifestyle choices can make these extended years both healthier and healthier.


What does this mean to you and to me for that matter? It means that to a great extent the choices you make now and in the future will determine how long you live and in what state of health. Here are the factors that were found to affect longevity and some strategies for helping to make the right choices for health and happiness. Click on the links to go to the About sites that have lots of great information on making the right lifestyle choices.


Moderate Alcohol Intake1
While several studies over the past few years have shown that moderate alcohol intake may help to protect against heart disease the optimal word is moderate. Excessive alcohol intake can lead to liver damage, drug interactions and injury. If in doubt avoid alcohol to prevent any drug interactions.


No Smoking
Smoking contributes to heart disease, circulatory problems and can cause emphysema and lung cancer. If you smoke quit!


Exercise
Experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily for most people. The exercise can be as simple as walking, jogging or biking. All exercise programs should include a weight bearing exercise to help keep bones strong.


Appropriate Weight
Obesity is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions. Moderation in food intake is the most sensible way to maintain weight in the ideal range. Overweight can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and joint problems.


Positive Coping Mechanisms
Learning how to control stress and deal with anger and change are also choices one can make to improve quality of life. Disciplines such as Yoga and Meditation are excellent ways to slow down and relax. We live in a stressful world, but we can learn to cope.


Stable Marriage
A good marriage is no accident, it takes work and commitment. Studies have shown that happily married people have less heart disease. If you are having problems in your marriage see a counselor. If the problem lies with sexual dysfunction, see a physician who can diagnose and possibly recommend a treatment. If your spouse has died, try to stay socially active in your church or community. Good friendships can develop and fill in the gaps in one's life.


Depressive Illness
Developing depression is not a lifestyle choice but seeking treatment if it develops and following treatment recommendations is. If you feel blue, with decreased energy or initiative you may be depressed and should seek help from your physician.


Sources:Vaillant,George E., M.D. and Mukamal,Kenneth , M.D. "Successful Aging"; American Journal of Psychiatry8June 2001 158: 839-847


http://seniorhealth.about.com/od/prevention/a/longevity_choic.htm


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