Aging: Researchers Find That Simple Things Make Long, Happy Lives

by | Mar 8, 2022 | Resilience

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What characteristics are shared by people who stay happy and healthy as they age? An 80 year observational study suggests that some simple things have great power.

What characteristics are shared by people who stay happy and healthy as they age? An observational study launched by Harvard University researchers in 1939 and continuing into the present has followed students from their teens to old age.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest and most comprehensive of its kind. As an observational study, it cannot provide reliable conclusions about cause and effect; what it can do is show which personal habits and characteristics tend to be associated with the presence or absence of health and happiness in the subjects.

That said, the findings do seem to suggest that there are things that almost any person can do to set the stage for the second act of their lives to be as enjoyable as the first. Moreover, they are things that don’t involve major expenses, special equipment or access to elite healthcare facilities.

Four of the six factors found in participants at age 50 who were happy and healthy at age 80 had to do with their health habits: maintaining healthy body weight, not smoking, moderate use of alcohol, and regular exercise.

But isn’t longevity genetic? George Valiant, M.D., who led the study for more than three decades, wrote a book about what he’d learned, Aging Well. Over the years, he shed the idea that a person’s genes set the course for their old age.

“We’re all mongrels,” he said to Harvard Magazine when his book was published. “Genes are so—well, so heterogeneous. With the passage of time, successful aging is remarkably free of genetic factors.”

In addition to health habits, the Harvard project has identified other characteristics and habits associated with healthy longevity: stable long-term relationships, the ability to be adaptive and resilient in the face of life’s challenges, and lifelong learning. All of these interplay with personal health.

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

Fundamentals of Health Alliance


The Fundamentals of Health Alliance works to publish useful and reliable information about nutrition and health. Their mission is to empower readers to be informed with honest, non-biased information about food, nutrition and the vital components of health.

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