Factors Associated with Longevity

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Why do some people live long, while others die young? Is stress killing people, as we so often hear?
There is some longitudinal data that was published six years ago in the book “The Longevity Project,” authored by psychologists, Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D. and Leslie Martin, Ph.D. The data was taken from Lewis Terman’s original study of over 1500 children, and who were followed over their lifetimes.
Because of the extensive body of data collected on these individuals, beginning in 1921, Drs. Friedmand and Martin were able to revisit the data and ask questions related to longevity.
They discovered “large differences in susceptibility to injury and disease. Some of these are a function of personality. Others are tied to social relations, including marriage, family, friendship and religious observance.” Stress, however, was not necessarily the killer it has been purported to be.
They found that stress that is the result of chronic physiological disturbances is not the same as stress related to demanding careers and hard work. In fact, the “Longevity Project discovered that those who worked the hardest lived the longest. The responsible and successful achievers thrived in every way, especially if they were dedicated to things and people beyond themselves.”
These researchers discovered that the one factor that was most strongly correlated with a shorter lifespan was parental divorce during childhood. They concluded “that parental divorce often pushes the child into a number of unhealthy directions, including heavier drinking and smoking, less education, lower career achievements and eventual higher likelihood of divorce themselves.”
Further “it is a society with more conscientious and goal-oriented citizens, well-integrated into their communities, that is likely to be important to health and long life.” Their research demonstrated that “connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.”
In their book, they refer to the healthy path as the “High Road.” The individual who takes the High Road is “the conscientious sort, with good friends, meaningful work and a happy, responsible marriage. The thoughtful planning and perseverance that such people invest in their careers and their relationships promote long life naturally and automatically, even when challenges arise.”
The above quotations were taken from an interview with Dr. Friedman by Amy Novotney in the Monitor on Psychology, December 2011, vol. 42, No. 11, pp. 36-39. The book can be purchased through Amazon. The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study by Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].