aging.bmpCan you name the seven major factors that create a healthy old age, both physically and psychologically?

According to the Grant Study of 268 Harvard grads covering a 72-year period, the seven indicators of healthy aging are:

– Deploying mature coping mechanisms, which are the ability to employ effective adaptations to life’s challenges (see blog “Four Defenses”)

– Education (I presume that a deep commitment to life-long learning qualifies no matter the level of formal education)

– Stable marriage

– Not smoking

– Not abusing alcohol

– Some exercise

– Healthy weight

“Of the 106 Harvard men who had five or six of these factors in their favor at age 50, half ended up at 80 as what [the study’s director] George Vaillant called ‘happy-well’ and only 7.5 percent as ‘sad-sick.’ Meanwhile, of the men who had three or fewer of the health factors at age 50, none ended up ‘happy-well’ at 80. Even if they had been in adequate physical shape at 50, the men who had three or fewer protective factors were three times as likely to be dead at 80 as those with four or more factors.” (“What Makes Us Happy,” by Joshua Wolf Shenk, Atlantic Magazine, June 2009.)

The fascinating thing is how many of these factors (if not all of them) are within our control. Some researchers say that circumstances account for only 10% of our happiness with 50% coming from our temperamental “set points” for happiness and the remaining 40% under our control. (“The How of Happiness,” by Sonja Lyubomirsky.)

Given that we can use our minds and cognitive behavior therapy to re-set our predispositions to happiness, President Lincoln had it right when he proclaimed that “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Evidently that also applies in large measure to our health and to our life spans.