How to live longer

If asked, most people would say that they would like to have a long life. Such statements are often qualified by comments about being in reasonable health and ponderings on the afterlife. I would actually say that most people are in denial about the possibility of their own death, even though it is really the only certainty in life.

We are told about many things many things that we can do to maximize our lifespan, but I discovered one possibility that was rather surprising …

The first thing that you can do to ensure a good chance at a long life is select your genes carefully. Of course, that is one thing that we cannot do – it is a matter of luck. But looking at your parents and other older family members can give some clues about what to expect. The next thing is to avoid too much risk of injury or infection. That, too, is largely luck.

Eating a healthy diet should help. I am told off for eating too much beige food; apparently the more colors that appear on your plate the better. Getting exercise to keep fit and not being over-weight are obvious contributors to the possibility of a long life.

I was surprised to hear that talking helps too. Actually, not just talking, but communication in general – writing is good. This communication, however, must be about your emotions – how you are feeling. [At this point, all male readers are squirming a bit, but please stay with me – there is some science.]

It started a few months back when I heard a BBC radio program, which looked at the work of James Pennebaker 25 years ago and the progress made since. Broadly, Pennebaker’s research showed that people who communicate [write about] their feelings in a systematic way are, to a statistically significant extent, healthier than those who do not. Being healthier tends to result in a longer life.

Recent research has looked at the nuances, but the broad conclusions hold. As I understand it, this does not mean that obsessive journal writers are necessarily healthier, because obsessions are rarely a sign of excellent mental health. Writing just a few times a week seems to be the trick. I have not tried it [yet], but the concept appeals.

I realized that there are a couple of examples of how this technique has been applied naturally. People from Mediterranean countries [like Italy] tend to have a longer life expectancy than Northern Europeans, despite smoking, easting red meat and drinking a lot. People from this region are rather prone to not keeping their emotions a secret! Likewise, on average, women life longer than men. It is well known that women are much more likely to share their feelings than men …

So, shape up guys! Tell me how you are feeling [email or comment is fine].

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