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Can Your Job Kill You? Career Success and Longevity

Maybe hard work is the key to a long life.

I recently wrote about when and how people should retire, and suggested that this decision could be related to the length of a person's life. A recent book, The Longevity Project, by PT blogger Howard Friedman and his colleague Leslie Martin, reports on the Terman study's participants following them from age 10 until their deaths. Although they agree that extremely stressful and dead-end jobs, with horrible, abusive bosses, that cause workers to cope by drinking and/or abusing drugs, can be harmful and lead to increased mortality, there are clear patterns between our working careers and the length of lives.

So, which personal and career factors are related to a long and healthy life? First, their studies clearly show that conscientious people live longer. Why? Because they are more likely to take care of themselves, to regularly visit doctors and follow their prescriptions and recommendations, and to be safe (e.g., always wearing seatbelts). Moreover, persistent individuals, who meet their career (and life's) challenges head-on, with a positive attitude, are more likely to have a long and healthy life.

But perhaps the most surprising findings run counter to what we commonly hear. One common belief is that job stress will kill you, and there are stories about people who "escape the rat race," move to some tropical paradise, and just kick it - and live happily ever after for a long time. But the longevity studies suggest that those people who take it easy - the ones who have rather carefree lives, without a lot of career and work commitments, are more prone to die early.

Those who live longest have important and meaningful careers and are especially productive. As Friedman and Martin state, "Striving to accomplish your goals, setting new aims when milestones are reached, and staying engaged and productive are exactly what those following the guideposts to a long life tend to do. The long-lived didn't shy away from hard work for fear that the stress of it would lead to an early demise; the exact opposite seems true!"

So, the lessons for those contemplating retirement? Make sure that you have plans for a meaningful and productive post-working career. That might mean a second, "sunset" career as a volunteer, or a retirement full of hobbies and activities that you are passionate about and will allow you to feel productive and accomplished.

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Should You Leave?