An 80-year-old Harvard-led study discovers the key to living longer

For years, researchers have been trying to discover the secret behind living longer. Now, after almost 80 years of study, they concluded that a person’s happiness has a huge impact on his or her well-being during later years.

Professor Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, said that while taking care of the physical health is important, putting importance in relationships is also a form of self-care. Additionally, the study revealed that close relationships matter more to people than money or fame.

The research began with 268 sophomore students from Harvard University in 1938 – all were male as women were not allowed to attend college yet. Currently, only 19 of them are still alive. In the 1970s, 456 Boston inner-city residents were added in the study, and as of today, 45 of them are still alive.

Furthermore, sometime between the first batch of men and the second one, researchers included the children of the original Harvard group in the study.

Researchers observed factors such as health trajectories and border lives of the participants before they came to the surprising truth that those who had happier and more satisfying relationships at the age of 50 had better health at 80. They say people’s relationships are better indicators of someone’s health than their cholesterol levels. (Related: Anti-aging Tips To Help You Become A Strong, Healthy Adult.)

Loneliness kills

Data showed a strong link between the happy lives of the participants and the status of their relationship with not just their family and friends, but with the whole community. Even more importantly, those who experienced satisfaction from their marriages have better mental health.

Loneliness, according to Waldinger, is as powerful and deadly as becoming addicted to smoking or alcohol. In addition, those who spent more time alone often died earlier. Having strong social support is encouraged as it’s proven to help lessen the possibility of mental deterioration.

Meanwhile, results of a discrete study also revealed that the women’s risk of developing depression in a marriage decreases, so long as they feel secure with their partners.

During his TED talk, Waldinger said that good relationships don’t mean everything is perfect. He further explained that couples could fight all the time, but the feeling of assurance that they can still count on each other when the worst comes, keeps their memory functions work better.

However, despite these findings, the director reminded his audience that it’s vital to start taking care of one’s body at an early age. He said, “Take care of your body as though you were going to need it for 100 years,’ because you might.”

Stages of the Harvard Study on Adult Development

By far, the study has been handled by different directors who gave huge contributions to the research. From 1938 to 1954, Clark Heath spearheaded the study and made use of physical constitution, intellectual abilities, and personality traits to know more about adult development.

In 1972, Psychiatrist George Vaillant led the study until 2004. According to him, at the beginning of the study, no one expected empathy or relationships to be contributing factors to their research; however, it turned out these are the keys to healthy aging.

His study showed that the six factors that predicted healthy aging among the Harvard group were: physical activity, the absence of alcohol abuse and smoking, having mature mechanisms to cope with life’s ups and downs and enjoying both a healthy weight and a stable marriage. As for the inner-city men, education is an additional factor. Vaillant also went to debunk the theory that people’s personalities are set by the age of 30 and can no longer be altered.

Currently, Robert Waldinger, the study’s fourth director, is expanding the study by including a third generation study.

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