Aspiring centenarians may want to take a look at their attitude,
according to a Mayo Clinic study.
A person's outlook on life may not only improve longevity
but quality of life, according to researchers. Optimists
are said to experience a higher level of both physical
and mental functioning than their pessimist counterparts.
Further, optimistic people decreased their risk of
early death by a full 50 per cent compared to those
who were more pessimistic.
"The wellness of being is not just physical, but
attitudinal," said Dr. Toshihiko Maruta, principal
author of the study. "How you perceive what goes
on around you and how you interpret it may have an impact
on your longevity, and it could affect the quality of
your later years."
Ideas about the associations of personality and health
are not new, but have their roots in the bodily humors
of ancient Greece.
While the exact mechanism of how personality acts as
a risk factor for early death or poorer health is unclear,
Maruto says it likely has to do with the fact that pessimists
have an increased chance for future problems with their
physical health, career achievements, and emotional
stress particularly depression.
"Yet another possibility could be more directly
biological, like changes in the immune system,"
Researchers found that pessimists scored below the
national average on physical functioning, bodily pain,
perception of general health, vitality, mental health,
and social functioning.
Besides looking at the world through rosier-colored
glasses, living a long and healthy life may also mean
paying attention to friends and family.
Loneliness in people over age 50 greatly increases
their risk of high blood pressure, according to a new
study at the University of Chicago. The loneliest people
studied had blood pressure readings as much as 30 points
higher than those who were not lonely, suggesting that
loneliness can be as bad for the heart as being overweight
or inactive, said the study.
"The magnitude of this association is quite stunning,"
said University of Chicago scientist Louise Hawkley,
the study's lead author. For those who lack companionship
or feel isolated, Hawkley said the findings indicate
that one strategy for treating high blood pressure might
be to become more involved, "do volunteer work,
make yourself useful."
The bottom line: living longer -- and better -- may
come down to having a healthy attitude and social life,
as well as following more traditional wellness practices
such as stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet and
maintaining a healthy weight. Research shows that obesity,
for example, contributes to diabetes, heart disease
and various cancers.
Here are other steps you can
take to live longer:
1. Don't sleep too much. Sleeping more than
eight hours per night can reduce life expectancy, according
to a February 2002 study in the Archives of General
Psychiatry. Night owls, however, should take note: researchers
say that sleeping less than four hours also increases
death rates. People who sleep between six and seven
hours per night were shown to live the longest.
2. Stick to a low-calorie diet. A recent study
by the National Institute on Aging found that a calorie-restricted
diet led to decreased insulin levels and body temperature,
both considered signs of longevity. A diet low in calories
but high in nutrients also led to a drop in DNA damage.
3. Have more sex. Researchers say that having
intimate sex makes you happier, better rested and less
stressed, which in turn can lower blood pressure and
protect against stroke and heart disease. A study published
in the April 2004 Journal of the American Medical Association
found that "high ejaculation frequency was related
to decreased risk of total prostate cancer."
4. Get a pet. People who own pets, especially
dogs, have been shown to be less stressed and require
fewer visits to their physicians than non-owners. Survival
rates for heart attack victims who had a pet were found
to be 12 per cent longer than for those who did not
have one, according to researcher Erica Friedmann. Pet
owners have also been shown to have lower blood pressure
and are less likely to be lonely or depressed. Another
healthful benefit? Pet ownership stimulates exercise.
5. Quit smoking. Middle-aged men who are long-term,
heavy smokers face twice the risk of developing more
aggressive forms of prostate cancer than men who have
never smoked, according to a study that appeared in
the July 2003 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers
and Prevention. And according to a recent study in the
Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, cigarette smoking
has been clearly linked to the most common causes of
death in the elderly. "Smoking is -- for all but
some exceptional subjects -- incompatible with successful
aging and compromises life expectancy even in extreme
longevity," the study states.
6. Manage your anger. A study led by the Johns
Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2002 found
that men who responded to stress with high levels of
anger were over three times more likely to develop premature
heart disease when compared to men who reported lower
anger responses. Furthermore, because anger is associated
with high blood pressure, they were over six times more
likely to have a heart attack by the age of 55.
7. Eat your antioxidants. Found in foods such
as blueberries, artichokes, beans, cinnamon and cloves,
antioxidant molecules scavenge free radicals, compounds
whose unstable chemical nature accelerates the effect
of aging on the cells. Cellular damage contributes to
an array of degenerative diseases, including atherosclerosis,
Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Research shows that
certain types of beans are among the best sources of
antioxidants, while blueberries and other berries follow
8. Stop nagging. Married couples who engage
in heated arguments are more likely to have health problems
than those who do not, according to a study at the University
of Utah. Based on 150 healthy, older married couples,
researchers found that women who are hostile toward
their husbands are more likely to have hardening of
the arteries. Men who are controlling in their relations
-- or are married to someone who is -- are more likely
to have atherosclerosis, a very serious condition of
the coronary arteries.