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The person with the longest confirmed lifespan is Jeanne Clement. She lived to be 122 and died in 1997.
Imagining living that long almost makes your head hurt.
This lady met Vincent Van Gogh. In person. For real. And was around to see the internet, too. Imagine your retirement age and middle age being the same thing. She was still riding her bicycle everywhere until 100. Lived on her own until 110.
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There's pretty much no way you're gonna live that long. Drink wheatgrass shots and do yoga until you're a human pretzel, but nope.
People who live past 95 don't have healthier habits than you or I do — in fact, Clement smoked until she was 117. These people just have amazing genes: People who live to 95 or older are no more virtuous than the rest of us in terms of their diet, exercise routine, or smoking and drinking habits, according to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Instead, they say that "centenarians may possess additional longevity genes that help to buffer them against the harmful effects of an unhealthy lifestyle."
Looks like a big "no." Though the average human lifespan keeps going up, the latest research says the limit doesn't seem to budge at all.
Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, notes recent findings that human lifespan may have a hard stop around 125:
We might have genetic limits...but what if we can change our genetics?
By manipulating the genes of a worm, Cynthia Kenyon was able to increase its lifespan — by 10 times.
And she didn't just add more crappy years at the end. She extended the young, healthy years.
Is this something we can do for humans? One day, possibly. I'd love to see Hallmark cards that say "Happy 800th birthday!"
But what would that really be like? We can't be sure but look at stories throughout history and, man, trying to live forever never works out well. Try to cheat death, and you'll regret it.
Remember that Clement lady I mentioned? Her husband died in 1942... but she lived another 55 years. In fact, she lived long enough to see her daughter and grandson die before she did. That's no fun.
And in our hearts, we all know this. When you survey people about how long they want to live, what do they say?
We don't want to live forever. We want to live a good life. How can we do that?
What we can do
Louis CK knows what it's like to get older:
Yes, super genetics mean you'll be around to smoke at 117 — but what about for the rest of us?
How you feel right now is a half decent way to determine whether you'll die in the next 30 years. Aging is inevitable. But when you "get old" can vary dramatically. After age 40, your chronological age is actually a poor predictor of how "old" you are:
Be a little vain: People who look young for their age live longer. Making an effort to look young and act young can help you stay young. Older people with positive perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer.
What else can you do to extend your life while improving the quality?
1. Relationships are the most important thing
There is a single question that best predicts whether you'll be alive at age 80:
Cynthia Kenyon admits to dramatically changing her diet due to the results of her research. She now consistently eats low carb:
But the results of the Terman study seem to say you should be a little more concerned about your friends than your body: "…connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program."
Want to make your life better? This study shows it's your relationships that can determine whether or not you succeed.
"The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change," says Howard S. Friedman in The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study.
The Grant Study found that "the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty."
"In a study led by Derek Isaacowitz, we found that the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty," says Martin E.P. Seligman in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.
The leader of the study said the main thing he learned from the research was that "the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people."
2. Be a good person
It wasn't getting help from others that conferred a long life. It was giving help:
The good do not die young, as the old saying goes. In fact, they live longer:
3. Get your act together
Was there a personality trait that was tied to a long, healthy life? Yes. Conscientiousness.
Truly fascinating: After a heart attack, conscientious people were not only more likely to recover because they were better about taking their meds, but conscientiousness was a better predictor of improvement than the medication itself. Conscientious people who took a placebo did better than the less conscientious who got the real medication:
4. Stress isn't always a bad thing
Don't avoid all stress. You need some stress. Research shows those who work the hardest live the longest:
5. Want to live a long time? Make yourself happy.
We associate health with having to do things that make us unhappy: Don't eat that, go jogging, etc. The research shows a fascinating link between what it takes to live a long life and what it takes to have a happy life: "Many (but not all) of the recommendations for happiness are nearly identical to recommendations for maintaining health," says Friedman.
For example, those trying to improve their happiness are advised to do the following things:
- Watch less TV
- Improve social relations — spend time with friends
- Increase levels of physical activity — go for a walk
- Help others, and express gratitude to those who have helped you
- Take on new challenges to remain fresh and in the moment
We may not be able to live forever, but we can live well.
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