Times gone by (auld lang syne) may have been filled with too much eating and too little exercise--you know the story-- and so we now resolve to focus on our bodies and lose weight, hit the treadmill, stop the worrying, quit the socializing, and cut down on the work. Big mistake! When we focus in on ourselves, we often subvert or destroy the very things that can lead to better health and happiness. Those are the Worst New Year's Resolutions You Can Make!
We all know that it is good to stay fit, sleep well, eat right, stop drugs, stay positive, and buckle up, so WHY ISN'T EVERYONE HEALTHY? Ironically, the best new year's resolution is to throw away your self-improvement lists and focus on accomplishing things at work (or school), with friends and family, and with your community. That could mean more worrying, more socializing, and more challenge, but also a more fulfilling and healthy year.
In the Longevity Project, we have been studying 1500 bright Americans who were first examined as children decades ago. They were followed for their whole lives, and we evaluated how well they aged and how long they lived. We ask: who lives long, healthy lives, and why? The findings continually surprise us.
I recently visited one of the participants in our research, who is now 100 years old. He entered the study as a child in 1917. But our lively discussions differed greatly from those in a usual centenarian study that studies a group of non-perishables who have thrived for 100 years. The problem with most such research is that we don't really need to see if centenarians eat yoghurt, are super-cheery, or use treadmills. Instead, we need to know what they were doing 40, 60, and 80 years ago that led step-by-step to their current good health!
Fortunately, this centenarian fits the bill of good health to an extent that is almost scary. Like most individuals in our study who stayed healthy and happy, he still works at something he loves, even when it is stressful. He is still in a loving marriage, that requires responsibility. He stays socially active, including supporting a club that he first joined back in 1937! This is precisely the pattern of most of those participants who thrived throughout the years.
New Year's resolutions can be a bad idea; for most people, they don't produce the desired effects. Gym memberships rise in January but then fall off. Belly sizes fall in January but then expand. Some people can't fall asleep and wreck their health because they're worrying about how much they should sleep.
What can be done? What does our research on The Longevity Project tell us? Those who develop committed and hard-working patterns in their lives-- lives which are persistent and responsible, and that involve achievements and close ties to others-- are the ones who generally stay healthy, both physically and mentally. This is especially true if you are dedicated to things and people beyond yourself. Happiness and health often come naturally as part of active, achieving, and trustworthy lives.
The concluding verse of the song Auld Lang Syne provides a good tip: "There's a hand my trusty friend, and give us a hand of thine." Just as many people celebrating the new year form a circle and grasp hands with their friends, our scientific research suggests that this will work in a metaphorical sense as well. One of the best ways to get yourself on a health pathway is to associate with other healthy, involved, and yes, hard-working dedicated individuals. A lesson of The Longevity Project--one of the secrets of longevity-- is to choose work, join social groups, and select hobbies that will naturally lead you to join hands with others in a whole host of healthier patterns and activities.
For more information on The Longevity Project see http://www.howardsfriedman.com/longevityproject/
The book also contains self-assessment quizzes to help you figure your current trajectory.
Copyright © 2012 Howard S. Friedman, all rights reserved.