Skip to content

    50+: Live Better, Longer

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    The Secrets of Aging Well.

    Live Long and Prosper

    WebMD Feature

    If fighting off Father Time by deflating your cholesterol count and stress levels is tucked somewhere in the back of your mind, maybe you should keep it there. With a longer, healthier life as a goal, perhaps you should be turning more of your attention to making friends, waging war on your waistline, and extinguishing your cigarettes for good.

    That is some of the wisdom emerging from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest, most comprehensive examination of aging ever conducted. Since the 1930s, researchers have studied more than 800 men and women, following them from adolescence into old age, and seeking clues to the behaviors that translate into happy and healthy longevity.

    Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

    Improve Your Odds for a Long and Healthy Life

    You know the story: Somebody's 99-year-old aunt never exercised, smoked her whole life, and lived on a diet of red meat and ice cream. So why bother with healthy living, right? "For every one person who lives a long life of unhealthy choices, there are countless others who die prematurely because of them," says Robert Schreiber, MD. He's a doctor at Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. No one is guaranteed a healthy life. But following certain guidelines -- namely, eating...

    Read the Improve Your Odds for a Long and Healthy Life article > >

    The results haven't always been what even the investigators themselves anticipated. "I had expected that the longevity of your parents, the quality of your childhood, and your cholesterol levels would be very influential," says psychiatrist George Vaillant, MD, director of the Harvard study and senior physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "So I was very surprised that these particular variables weren't more important than they were."

    Surprisingly, stressful events didn't predict future health, either. "Some people had a lot of stress, but aged very well," says Vaillant. "But how you deal with that stress does matter quite a bit."

    In fact, rather than obsessing about your cholesterol, or even the genetic hand you were dealt, the Harvard study found that you'd be better off becoming preoccupied with the following factors that turned out to be most predictive of whether you'd move successfully through middle age and into your 80s:

    • Avoiding cigarettes
    • Good adjustment or coping skills ("making lemonade out of lemons")
    • Keeping a healthy weight
    • Exercising regularly
    • Maintaining strong social relationships (including a stable marriage)
    • Pursuing education

    Woody Allen once observed that no one gets out of this world alive, but for as long as we're here, says Vaillant, we might as well stay as healthy and happy as possible. Vaillant, whose book Aging Well describes the decades-long Harvard study, says that it's "astonishing how many of the ingredients that predict longevity are within your control."

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    blueberries
    Eating for a longer, healthier life.
    woman biking
    How to stay vital in your 50s and beyond.
     
    womans finger tied with string
    Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
    smiling after car mishap
    9 things no one tells you about getting older.
     
    fast healthy snack ideas
    Article
    how healthy is your mouth
    Tool
     
    dog on couch
    Tool
    doctor holding syringe
    Slideshow
     
    champagne toast
    Slideshow
    Two women wearing white leotards back to back
    Quiz
     
    Man feeding woman
    Slideshow
    two senior women laughing
    Article