What are the secrets to a longer life? This question has preoccupied researchers, psychologists, philosophers and sages throughout history. In The Longevity Project, health psychologists Howard Friedman, Ph.D. and Leslie Martin Ph.D., summarize the results of 80 years of research data on how personality, stress, and social support predict good health and a longer life. They state that of all the personality traits studied (e.g., neuroticism or extraversion), the most important predictor of longevity was conscientiousness!
Based on these findings, here are some things you can do to promote a long life:
Be conscientious and do a good job
Conscientious people are well-respected in their communities, have happier marriages, and are more likely to be successful in their careers, according to this research. Having a sense of responsibility for people and organizations that you are connected with seems to pay off in better relationships and opportunities.
Learn to say “no” when you need to
Think carefully about the things you commit to. Make sure you have enough time to do a good job on all of them without getting resentful or burning yourself out. Sometimes it is better to say “no” to some things to leave more energy for the people and causes that are most important to you.
Help many people, not just family
By helping other people, you help to build community and also build a reputation as a caring person who can be relied on. You can strengthen your relationships or build new relationships through helpful behaviors. This is particularly useful if you are new to a community. Volunteering for projects at your local school, place of worship, or charity, environmental group, or joining a service networking group, such as Rotary International can help you connect with other people who care.
Choose an exercise you can stick to
People in the study who exercised when they were young, then gave it up did not live as long as those who stuck to their exercise routines into midlife and beyond. Vigorous exercise has the most immediate benefit, but if you can’t keep it up, the effects won’t last. Walking 30 minutes per day 5 days a week is a great low-stress way to improve your health and fitness and connect with nature and your neighbors.
Be satisfied with your chosen path
If you choose a job that you’re passionate about and work hard at it, you’re more likely to be satisfied with the results after many years. If you haven’t lived up to your potential yet, you may want to consider hiring a career coach or psychologist to help you focus and address barriers to achievement. Some people have traits or habits that get in their way, such as being too controlling and aggressive, too passive and avoidant, or too impulsive and likely to act without thinking. Alcohol and drugs or dysfunctional relationships will also suck energy away from your career so these too, need to be addressed.
The good news is that people who were not conscientious to begin with, but who changed and became more conscientious or socially connected over time still lived long lives. So for most people, it is never too late to walk a new path. You just need to find the courage to change!