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by Dr. Will Cole
In the good old days, elderly people were respected leaders and pillars of wisdom for the community. Today, however, seniors are often relegated to the corners of our society, marginalized and disrespected. It’s too bad so many of us miss out on this huge source of wisdom and experience, but the unfortunate fact is that aging in the modern world also seems to be more heavily associated with illness, senility, immobility, and other issues. Rates of diseases like Alzheimer’s are increasing, with 1 in 3 seniors now dying with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
But does growing old have to be this way? According to research, not necessarily. For example, the Okinawa study suggests that there’s no reason why the majority of us can’t live to be at least 100 years old and still remain disease-free and healthy. Also, there’s currently a lot of exciting research centered around telomere length in relation to longevity. Basically, the longer your telomeres (the end caps to your chromosomes), the longer you might live.
But it’s not just about how many years you live, but how much life you have in those years, to paraphrase an old saying. Research suggests that our mental and emotional health might also play a role in our ability to live long, happy lives. In fact, one fascinating study, published by the American Psychological Association, found that people who lived the longest shared a particular set of personality traits.
This 75-year study consisted of 300 couples who enrolled in the study in their 20s. The participants picked a handful of friends to rate their personalities using a 36-question scale. (Apparently we are not particularly good at identifying traits in ourselves, but our close friends are usually spot-on!) The researchers evaluated the data to see which personalities were most common in those who ended up living longest. Here are the five key traits that were consistently associated with longevity:
People who were less likely to take risks but also were thorough and efficient tended to live longer.
Study participants who were quick to listen to others’ feelings and ideas were found to live a longer life span.
3. Emotional stability
Get off the emotional roller coaster! Being emotionally stable was found to be one of the strongest links to living a long life.
For women in the study, friendliness was the second highest character quality associated with a long life. Similarly, another recent study published in the journal Aging evaluated 243 people between the ages of 95 to 100 and found that all of them rated highly on measures of how easy-going they were.
5. Emotional expression
Other research also suggests that people who lived into their 90s and 100s were more likely to be able to openly express their emotions.
How many of these traits do you also seem to have? Even if they don’t seem to fit your personality, notice that all of these traits are really centered around one thing: mindfulness.
We spend most of our lives lost in our over-reactive minds. We worry about the future, we regret the past, and we move through the present moment on auto-pilot. This way of living results in practically the exact opposite of the personality traits associated with a long life. If we are alert and rooted in the present moment, we’ll be more conscientious, open, emotionally stable, friendly, and emotionally expressive.
Mindfulness can bring out the traits found in people who tend to live long, healthy lives, so why not give it a try? You can make mindfulness a new habit. I always recommend a regular and consistent mindfulness practice for my patients, to help them achieve optimal health. Who knows – if everyone starts doing it we could help remake the golden years, returning our elderly population to its rightful place as the esteemed, respected source of wisdom.
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