We know that eating right and exercising builds strong bones, improves brain function, strengthens heart health, and helps us live longer and feel better overall. But if you’re wondering how to live a healthy lifestyle that best supports longevity, the strongest agents may actually be personality traits.
Science shows that certain characteristics can influence telomeres and aging. Simply put: telomeres are the endcaps of your chromosomes, and the longer they are the longer you live. Now, there is clear evidence that genes (known as longevity alleles) greatly determine how long a person will live (barring unexpected fatalities). But for the most part, science hasn’t found that one specific diet supports longer telomeres or a longer life. Diet and fitness patterns don’t show commonalities when it comes to longevity. Research does, however, show commonalities in the personality traits of the longest-lived humans.
5 Personality Traits that Help You Live Longer
- Be Social: A 2010 study published in PLoS Medicine showed that strong social networks increased survival odds by 50%. Another interesting study revealed that people with strong social networks were less likely to get sick when exposed to a cold virus.
It’s not about quantity, but about the quality of your relationships with friends and family. Take time to nurture your interpersonal relationships. Call, connect, and have adventures in real-life rather than depending on technology to sustain communication.
- Be Conscientious: This may be the strongest personality predictor of longevity! In their 2012 book, The Longevity Project, researchers Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, discuss the results of an 80-year study that tracked the lives of 1500 boys and girls from adolescence to old age. They discovered that those who lived the longest were also the most conscientious. The kids who were “prudent, persistent, and planful” lived longer than the kids who presented as “cheerful and optimistic.” Those who were more meticulous, responsible, disciplined, and organized throughout life took fewer risks and were more diligent about taking care of themselves and their health. They also built more reliable social networks and had more success in their career endeavors. Interestingly, research suggests that conscientiousness also demonstrates a protective benefit against dementia-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is that conscientiousness can be developed. Take baby steps towards being more organized with lists and planning in advance. Use the motivation for a long life to stay on track!
- Be Optimistic and Easy Going: A prominent study published in the journal Aging found evidence that three related personality traits can help you live longer and feel better. Researchers investigated the personalities of 243 men and women between the ages of 95 and 100, and found they were easy going, optimistic, and quick to laugh.
The takeaway? Don’t sweat the small stuff, and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Studies suggest a positive outlook helps to reduce stress and its companion cortisol, as does laughter, which improves natural killer cell activity, the part of your immune system that fights cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
- Be Joyful: A 2011 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that of the more than 3000 men and women studied, those who were happiest throughout the day lived the longest, even when diagnosed with a chronic disease. Research suggests that happiness can reduce the risk of dying over 5 years by 35%. All the more reason to maintain an optimistic outlook and an easygoing nature!
- Be Extroverted: This one takes us right back to #1 Be Social. Those who are more outgoing are better able to build stronger social networks. Extroversion is a great predictor of longevity because it fosters happiness, stress resistance, and mood regulation.
You don’t have to be an extrovert to be extroverted. It’s just a matter of not isolating yourself. Science shows that social isolation and loneliness are linked to negative health markers, such as obesity, smoking, and inactivity. People who isolate tend to have higher blood pressure, elevated inflammatory makers, and increased blood clotting. So get out there and talk to people…at least one conversation a day!
How to Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Still not convinced? Consider a recent study from the American Psychological Association. Researchers tracked 300 couples over 75 years, starting in their twenties. Participants selected a few friends to rate their personalities on a 36-question scale. The 5 personality traits of the longest-lived among them were…are you ready?
- Emotional expression
- Emotional stability
The verdict: when it comes to longevity, self-improvement and positive personality traits may be just as important as, if not more important than, eating right and staying active. Express yourself well.