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Laws of Healthy Old Age

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Saturday, February 24th, 2018
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Two senior black women exercising together

1. Continue learning

Compared to participants of the inner-city Glueck study, the Grant men lived on average 10 years longer than their less-educated peers. However, the 6 percent of Glueck men who graduated from college were just as healthy, even in old age, as the Grant men.

2. Don’t smoke

In both studies (and excluding alcohol abuse), smoking was the greatest contributor to disease and early death in both studies.

3. Don’t abuse alcohol

Alcohol was the single greatest contributor to disease and early death in both studies; 57 percent of participant divorces involved alcoholism. But it wasn’t a bad marriage that led to drinking; quite the opposite. Longtime study director George Vaillant concluded that “alcohol is a cause, rather than a result, of life’s problems.”

4. Exercise and (5.) maintain a healthy weight

In a surprising twist, the study found that health predicts exercise at every age, but exercise didn’t predict health in old age. In other words, don’t expect your treadmill to counterbalance that cheat-day pizza.

6. Find healthy ways to cope with life’s lemons

Part of the maturation process is transforming unhealthy defense mechanisms (self-absorbed) into healthy ones (altruistic). The study separates defense mechanisms into four categories, ranking from worst to best: psychotic, immature, neurotic and mature. Participants with poor defense mechanisms typically turned to alcoholism, smoking, depression and unhealthy life habits.

7. Foster positive relationships

Touted as the single greatest predictor of success, Vaillant famously concluded: “Happiness is love. Full stop.” As social creatures, we simply cannot thrive without strong social connections.

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