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How to be happy and healthy into old age

By | David Klaasen | Helping You Create Clarity, Inspire Your People & Drive Performance | Retain your best people | Changing Management Mindsets and Behaviour | Practical Behaviour Analytics

After the indulgences of the festive period it is worth considering the findings from a 60 year study into what makes us happy and healthy or sick and sad. It shows that we have a lot more influence over our long term health and well-being than previously thought. Whether you like it or not your life and happiness are in your hands.

The study identified seven predictive factors that significantly influence how long you will live and how happy you will be later in life. The good news is that they are all partly in your control, the bad news is it is best if you start controlling them before you are 50.

When I read about the research, currently led by George Vaillant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, it struck a personal chord. My father died at the age of 63 when I was only 26. At that age I used to think that anyone over 40 was old and I suddenly realised that 63 was in fact very young – far too young to die.

The study which followed 237 students at Harvard University and 332 socially disadvantaged youths from inner-city Boston through health, disease, and death has come up with some conclusions that hold no surprises like; don’t smoke, don’t abuse alcohol and get plenty of exercise, but it also shows that life-long learning, good personal relationships and altruistic behaviour are the key to a long and happy life.

Vaillant points out that; “Despite great differences in parental social class, college-tested intelligence, current income and job status, the health decline of the 25 inner-city men who obtained a college education was no more rapid than of the Harvard College graduates”.

The seven predictive factors

The seven controllable or protective factors that the study identified are:

– Give up smoking

– Drink alcohol in moderation

– Get plenty of exercise and watch your weight

– Continue learning and educating yourself throughout your life

– Be altruistic and helpful to others

– Make time to nurture personal relationships and develop coping strategies for managing stress.

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