The Secret to Living Longer Isn't Diet or Exercise

Dana Covit

Though a healthy diet and active lifestyle are certainly two foundational tenets of a long, productive life, there's another factor we should be considering: well-being. By now, we all grasp the reality that happiness and health are inextricably linked. But might happiness and, in this case, a sense of meaning and purpose actually increase our life span? A new study out of University College London, Princeton University, and Stony Brook University examined the relationship between a sense of well-being and longevity and found the two to be highly interrelated.

The study, which surveyed a group of over 1000 English men and women over the age of 65, found that the people with the greatest sense of well-being were 30% less likely to die during the average eight-and-a-half-year period of study than those with a poor sense of well-being. In this case, "well-being" refers to a sense of control, feeling that what you do is meaningful and worthwhile, and having a sense of purpose in life. The findings suggest that increasing an aging individual's sense of these things might help to improve actual physical health.

The biggest takeaways are simple enough and extremely helpful for even those of us still in our 20s and 30s:

• Foster a sense of purpose early on. Pursue your passions and invest in the type of lifestyle that will give you happiness and peace of mind down the road. This relates to hobbies and what you do for a living.

• Set limits at work. It can be tempting to want to work like mad in order to save up for retirement later in life. But, if you work yourself into the ground, you may not even see the full benefit of retirement. The study noted that this sense of well-being dips to its lowest in middle age, around the same time that salaries peak. This is because as individuals are tempted to work longer hours, they find their happiness decreases substantially.

• Cultivate a rich inner life. Ensure that when you do retire, you will still be able to find purpose and meaning. Defining yourself and your character by what you do can be a dangerous trap.

What do you think about these findings? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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