The Science of Longevity

Posted by M ws On Thursday, January 31, 2013 0 comments

 Bombarded with adverts promising a longer, healthier life, BBC News Los Angeles correspondent Peter Bowes goes in search of eternal youth.

If we are lucky, we will grow old. Most of us have grey hair, wrinkles, frailty, loss of memory and degenerative diseases to look forward to - if we do not have them already.

It is not all bad news. With ageing, we can acquire wisdom and often become more emotionally stable and at ease with life. But the downsides seem to far outweigh the perks.

We live in a youth-oriented world.

California epitomises a society where everyone wants to be young, attractive and vibrant. Being old, looking old, acting old is not an option, so much so that after many years operating as the University of California's Ageing Centre, in Los Angeles, the name was changed to Longevity Center, to "give it a more positive spin," according to its director, Dr Gary Small.

"Ageism - prejudice against old age - is a tremendous problem," says Dr Small.

"People need to understand that older people are just people. As soon as you understand that, you can get over that ageism and that fear. Part of it is our own fear of death and of ageing ourselves, so we want to deny that natural process," he says.

Scientists have long been searching for the key to a long and healthy life and experiments can throw up unlikely results.

A stress-free existence is often put forward as recipe for a long life, but a study by Dr Lewis Terman at Stanford University in 1921 refutes many commonly held beliefs about lifestyle and lifespan. It followed the lives of about 1,500 people from childhood to death and set out to match behavioural traits and actual life events with how individuals thrived in later years.

For the past two decades, the research has been updated by Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside.

"We looked at those people who were the most persistent, most hard-working, most involved, and achieved the most success, and often that was the most stress - those were the people who stayed healthier and lived the longest," he explains.

"The people who said, 'I don't stress, I take it easy, I retire early,' - those were the people who tended to die at a young age. That was really surprising and it goes against what a lot of advice that we hear."

According to the study, a little worry is also a good thing. The benefits enjoyed by people who lead a conscientious life were also highlighted.

"They tend to have healthier habits," he adds.

"They're less likely to smoke, they're less likely to drink to excess. But we also found that the people who were conscientious tended to succeed more in their careers, which is a good predictor of health and long life."

The project also suggests that people who lived a more worthwhile and socially responsible life, helping others, being involved with other people and in their community groups, lived longer.

The saying the good die young does not hold water.

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