The Longevity Study.
Just after the Great Depression lifted in 1938, a group of scientists from the Harvard University in the US began a study on 268 men. Starting with first year University students they have followed them through their life. In fact the study is still ongoing because along the way other groups have been added to the study.
The advantage of this longitudinal type of study is that you can find out how men are going in their 80s, then look back at their earlier years to see if there is things which may contribute to their health now. And it turns out there are. Some factors which you may be able to control now, will not only effect how long you live but will also change the way you live for better or worse depending on your choices.
You Should Have Begun Before Now!
The researchers say that “since aging starts at birth, people should start taking care of themselves at every stage of life. You can see how people can start to differ in their health trajectory in their 30s, so that by taking good care of yourself early in life you can set yourself on a better course for aging. The best advice I can give is ‘Take care of your body as though you were going to need it for 100 years,’ because you might.” Of course for you and me, it’s a bit late to do many of the things we should have done in our thirties but we can start today and see if we can take incremental steps towards happiness and longevity.
Changes in the Study.
This study because of its length has required four changes of directors so far. And of course under each director, the emphasis has changed depending on the predominant thinking at the time.
Clark Heath, the director from 1938 until 1954, believed physical attributes, intellectual ability, and personality traits determined adult longevity. So, they made detailed measurements of head shapes and features, they examined the functioning of major organs, used electroencephalograms, and even analysed the men’s handwriting.
George Vaillant, who led the study from 1972 until 2004, was a Psychiatrist so he emphasised the role of relationships, and came to recognise the role they played in people living long and pleasant lives. He said “When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
The study’s fourth director, Robert Waldinger has expanded research to the wives and children of the original men. That is because few of the original men are still alive and so a second-generation study, will push the findings into the future. He says “It will probably never be replicated,” and added that there is yet more to learn.
Wadding recorded a TED talk, titled “What Makes a Good Life? which has been viewed over 43 million times. You can find it here.
The researchers found marital satisfaction has a protective effect on people’s mental health. Part of another study in which Waddington took part, found that people who had happy marriages in their 80s reported that their moods didn’t suffer even on the days when they had more pain. Those who had unhappy marriages felt more emotional and physical pain. Researchers also found that those with strong social support experienced less mental deterioration as they aged. So, it not a factor of whether you are married or not. It’s about how positive that marriage is. Waldinger added, “Loneliness kills,” he said. “It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
Andy Stanley once wrote a book entitled “The Principle of the Path”. In his book he points out that we are all on a path somewhere. You get to choose the path you are on BUT the path will determine your destination. That’s true for example in finances. If you choose to spend everything you have as soon as you get it, the outcome will probably be someplace you don’t want to be. And that’s true of relationships and many other aspects of life as well.
It seems to me that if you choose the right path, the Harvard study says you choose to make your life better as you age. If you don’t deliberately choose to make your life better it will go downhill as you age. So how can you improve your marriage from here on?
Paul gives us a clue in the biblical book of Ephesians. He says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” That doesn’t sound like a suggestion but rather a command. And it means wherever your relationships are up to today, you have the opportunity to choose that path and show her that you love her. According to the Harvard research, anything you do successfully in that direction will be a path will lead to a better and longer life.
However, you may need to figure out a few things along the way. Obviously I don’t have all the answers to every complex situation you are in but have a look at this article. At least it’s a start and you never know, it may lead you to making the rest of your life the best of your life.