Do you want to know the secrets of living longer? Join Jason Hartman on this episode of Holistic Survival as he interviews Leslie Martin, Ph.D. and Howard Friedman, Ph.D., authors of “The Longevity Project.” Find out who lives longest and why. The answers may surprise you! Visit: http://holisticsurvival.com/category/audio-podcast/.
HOWARD S. FRIEDMAN is Distinguished Professor at the University of California in Riverside. LESLIE R. MARTIN is Professor of Psychology at La Sierra University, and Research Psychologist at UC Riverside. They met when Leslie began graduate study in 1991 at UC Riverside, where she became a key and continuing associate in Howard’s then-launching lifespan longevity studies. Here are some facts about their work, their interests, and their qualifications.
Their scientific research on health and longevity has been published in over 150 influential and often-cited scientific articles and chapters in leading books and scientific journals. In addition, Professor Friedman has authored or edited ten academic books about health and one prior trade book, The Self-Healing Personality. His textbook on Personality is now in its 5th edition. He served as Editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Mental Health, which received recognition as a “Best Reference Source of 1998″ from Library Journal. His edited book, Foundations of Health Psychology was named a CHOICE Magazine Outstanding Academic Title. Professor Martin’s books include Health Behavior Change And Treatment Adherence, and a textbook in health psychology. Leslie and Howard have spent 20 years collaborating on the research described in The Longevity Project. The study tracks the loves and lives of 1,500 Americans from childhood to death.
Putting the research findings into practice, Leslie is passionate about adventure travel that stretches her past achievements. She climbed Kilimanjaro (to the summit), and she recently completed the Marathon des Sables. This ultra-marathon is a 151-mile self-sustaining endurance race across the Moroccan Sahara, in which runners must carry all food and clothing for the entire marathon (in their backpacks). (See picture.) Always interested in a challenge, in her early 30’s Leslie became a champion for her age group in high-jumping. When she is not in the lab or writing about health, she is planning which mountains she will next climb.
Less extreme in his physical adventures, Howard prefers swimming, hiking, and cultural travel. In addition to his research and teaching, he writes every day, including a “My Turn” column published in Newsweek, and a new blog.
Dr. Friedman is the recipient of two major career awards for his health psychology research. In 1999, he received the Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology Award from the American Psychological Association; and in 2008, he was honored with the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science (APS), an international award and the most prestigious in his field of applied research. See: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/awards/cattell/citations/friedman.cfm
A graduate of Yale University (magna cum laude with Honors in psychology), Dr. Friedman was awarded a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship for his doctoral study at Harvard University. He is a thrice-elected Fellow of the American Psychological Association (in Personality and Social Psychology, Health Psychology, and in Media Psychology) and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Society of Behavioral Medicine.
Dr. Martin graduated summa cum laude from the California State University and received her Ph.D. from the University of California in Riverside. She has received the Distinguished Researcher Award, and the Anderson Award for Excellence in Teaching, both at La Sierra University. Former department chair, Dr. Martin has also received awards for outstanding advising and for service learning. In addition to her research on pathways to health and longevity, she studies physician-patient communication and its relationship to medical outcomes and has lectured widely on these topics.
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Start of Interview with Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin
Jason Hartman: My pleasure to welcome Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin to the show. They are the authors of the longevity project. And this is about surprising discoveries for health and long life from a landmark 80 year study, the longest study that has ever been done I believe on longevity. Leslie and Howard, welcome. How are you?
Leslie Martin: Thank you very much – good.
Howard S. Friedman: Glad to be with you, thanks.
Jason Hartman: Well, likewise. You have really done something phenomenal here and there’s some really amazing information. This is the longest study ever done, right?
Howard S. Friedman: Yes. Everybody knows that some people will stay healthy and live longer and other people seem to become ill and succumb before their time. But no one’s ever been able to really track that over many decades to see exactly why that is. So we were able to have access to an archive that started back in 1921. Data was collected by a Dr. Lewis Terman at Stanford University and he started following over 1500 children to see how they grew up. And he collected all kinds of information about them, personalities and their social relationships and their families when they were children and then follow them into young adulthood and then as they got married and went into careers themselves. And we picked up the study about 70 years after that, around 1990, and we’ve followed for the last 20 years, gathering death certificates to see who thrived and lived long and who died before their time. So, yes, this is the first study that’s ever been able to follow a large number of people intensively throughout their whole lives, gathering information about what makes some people live long and some people die young.
Jason Hartman: Now, were most of the things that you found in this landmark long, long study. Were they mental and psychological things or were they purely empirical things like eat your veggies? Or were they a combination of both? I assume you’re going to say both.
Leslie Martin: Yeah, we looked at personality characteristics. That was one of the things that we were initially quite interested in, but we certainly looked at other things, too – social ties and bonds with other people, career paths. And everything is quantitative and empirical. What we found is that a lot of the picky details and the things like which food exactly you should be eating or exactly which kind of exercise you ought to be doing, but those things really didn’t matter so much. There were so much broader categories of things, personality traits, psychosocial factors that were much more important.
Jason Hartman: I recently remember hearing about a new malady that’s been diagnosed entitled orthorexia, which is about people who are really, really picky about their food and their eating habits and only eat organic everything and all of this kind of stuff. That’s not maybe as important as some people think, huh?
Howard S. Friedman: Well, everybody knows that it’s good to eat healthy foods, eat mostly a plant-based diet. So why isn’t everybody healthy? What’s really unique about the longevity project is that it shows why some people stay on the healthy pathways and other people fall off. And so it has a lot to do with the kinds of people you associate with, the kinds of careers you get involved in, and the kinds of personality patters that you develop over the years. So the longevity project found that you can predict good health years later by what you’re doing earlier on, but it’s not invariant, it’s not unchangeable. Some people did become healthier in their patterns and they wound up staying healthy or living longer.
Jason Hartman: I’ve been fascinated for many years with Norman Cousins and the whole psychosomatic medicine type of field that I find really interesting. Which personalities make it the longest and have the better lives? I assume being optimistic is good for one’s health, no?
Leslie Martin: Well, that was actually one of our biggest surprises. It’s something that, based on the literature that exists out there, the large body of it, we did expect that being cheerful and optimistic in childhood would lead to a longer life. But when we looked across all those decades, we actually found exactly the opposite. The kids who were the most cheerful and optimistic, had the best sense of humor and really sort of had this idea that oh life is great, everything is good, they lived shorter lives. When we looked at this more carefully, what we saw was that they really did approach life differently, or at least partially, because of those attitudes and those beliefs. They were more likely to grow up to be smokers. They were more likely to be heavier drinkers. They had riskier hobbies. And so when you place those in counterpoint to those who were less optimistic and cheerful, who didn’t necessarily expect that everything would go right or go their way, we really saw that they were at a significant risk. And those who worried a little bit more were a little bit more careful and thought about the things that could go wrong and realized that things often do, they fared better.
Jason Hartman: So because, Leslie, their behavior, like in physical activities, was less risky, for example they wouldn’t jump off the high dive and maybe kill themselves doing that, they were pessimistic about that or was it more subtle?
Leslie Martin: Well, we did see that their behaviors were different. But that didn’t explain the entirety of the effect. So when we looked at what they died of, for example, they were more likely to die of accidents and injuries, but they were also more likely to die of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It’s really all-cause mortality. So we see that some of this is playing out through various health-related behaviors, but other things may also certainly be going on as they encounter daily stressors and disappointments and things like that. They may be a bit less well prepared to handle that. And so there’s multiple factors going on.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. And I want to be clear that when you say they, you’re talking about the optimistic people, right?
Leslie Martin: Yes, the optimistic cheerful, those who were quite high on that. So we’re certainly not arguing that you should be pessimistic and dour and always think the worst. That’s very clearly not the case, but the idea is that you can be too high on cheerfulness and optimism as well and that a simplistic view that says, oh, be careful, that’s gonna help you, or anything that’s really a simplistic approach that says this is always going to work this particular way is probably gonna be wrong. And a longevity project really did show that over and over again that humans and how they live their lives and what the outcomes are are quite complex.
Jason Hartman: Very interesting. So the optimistic people maybe tended to be more indulgent. So they would drink or smoke – they would just sort of do all of that stuff which ultimately led to their demise maybe?
Howard S. Friedman: Another way to look at it is in terms of the characteristics that really did predict good health and long life. And we found that in the longevity project the people who thrived and stayed healthy and lived long were those we called conscientious. And conscientiousness means being prudent and planful and especially persistent. So the people who stuck to it, whatever they had to do actually wound up staying healthier. And part of that was that the conscientious participant in the longevity project entered into better relationships. They had better friendships, they had better marriages. The conscientious people in the longevity project wound up in better jobs and succeeding in their jobs and often found their jobs more interesting because they were able to be promoted because they were the kind of people you wanted to have in responsible positions. So it wasn’t that they lived really boring lives cuz they were really careful. It was that they wound up really living really exciting, interesting lives because those were the kinds of positions they could be put in.
So if you think about it, who are you gonna hire as your CEO or as your army leader or as your astronaut. It’s gonna be someone who has a sense of adventure, but also is able to pull it off, is careful enough and focused enough and can stick with it. So that was really one of the main findings of the longevity project that being conscientious is one of the secrets to staying healthy and living long.
Jason Hartman: What about extroversion versus introversion? Maybe lumping these two together, I’m sure I am, but it seems like the more optimistic person is maybe the more extroverted they are. I’m not sure if those two always aligned. But being sociable, is that better for your health?
Leslie Martin: Well, we saw over and over again that social ties were very important. So individuals who had more contacts with other people who were actively engaged with others, they really fared better. On top of that is some of those social engagements involved helping other people, doing for others, doing things that benefited others. That was an additional bonus on top of the benefit that they already had from simply having those social contacts. So we do see that social ties are important and that having and maintaining those connections is something that is worthwhile putting some effort and energy into doing.
Jason Hartman: So friendships are important to a long life, huh?
Howard S. Friedman: And in the longevity project in the book, there are different scales, self-quizzes that you can take and some of them will tell you if you have different kinds of sociability that are relevant to staying healthy, and you can also assess yourself on the nature of your social support and how tied you are to other people, how happy your marriage is. So we say a good thing to do is get the book, fill out the scales, and see where you are on life’s trajectories. Are you heading in a healthy direction or not? Another thing you can do is have your friends rate you on the scales that are in the book. So they can often give you even more objective information on your personality that’s relevant to health and on your social relations that re relevant to health. And once you’ve done that, the longevity project points out the different pathways that lead to more and more healthy kinds of steps or that lead to more non-healthy kinds of steps.
One of the things we found in the longevity project was that it wasn’t just random how you would wind up later in life stressed and challenge wasn’t random. Some people made good luck for themselves and some people brought bad luck on themselves. So we can predict earlier in life who is going to kind of have more stress later in life and who is going to be on healthier paths.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, very interesting. Now, was there much emphasis on the qualitative aspects of one’s life? I mean some people say, well, it’s better to die at 50 but have a really great life than to live to 80 and not such a great life. Any thoughts or study on that?
Leslie Martin: That’s a really great question. I mean I hear that a lot – I’d rather live a shorter life but enjoy it. And what we found consistently in the longevity project is that the people who are doing things that promoted the lengths of the life, that helped them live a long time, those same things tended to make them in their lives. So people would report that they felt they were living up to their potential, that they were doing things that they were finding meaning in. And that sort of contentment and finding meaning in life also boded well for the length of their life. We saw that people who were committed to things that they did tended to do well, that threw themselves into their work. That tended to be a good thing also in terms of length of life even if that work sometimes brought stress to them. And so, all in all, I think although our focus wasn’t precisely on the quality of life, we saw a lot of evidence that a good, fulfilling, enriched life comes from the social connections and the being committed to work in all of these other things that are also contributing to longevity.
Jason Hartman: Let me take a brief pause. We’ll be back in just a minute.
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Jason Hartman: It seems to be one common theme that you seem to be hitting on is that may be having a mission bigger than one self or outside of one self may be it’s a better to say that its important whether it would be work, volunteerism, and kind of something beyond just one’s own selfish needs, right?
Howard S. Friedman: And that’s right and well, first let me say that the Longevity project is not really about why some people will live to a 100 or into their 100s, it’s really about why some people thrive into their 70s and 80s and succumb in their 40, 50s and 60s so it’s something that most people really should be concerned with, and in terms of really as a principle underlying a lot of the success of people on the Longevity project this extends of having a meaningful life, having a significant life, so we found with the people who were really honest, dependable, hardworking helpful, socially involved with others. Those were the people who thrived, and in fact you might have heard the old saw that says the best of men cannot suspend their fate: the good die early and the bad die late. Well, we didn’t find that again. People who were really, the good guys who were working hard, doing something meaningful involved with others, and they are the ones who thrive so we sum that up by saying generally it’s the good ones who could actually help save their faith. The bad die early, but the good do great.
Jason Hartman: That’s it. That’s good to hear because I guess Billy Joel is wrong in his song Only the Good Die Young, right, so that’s good to hear that if you are living a virtuous life, you are going to have a better one hopefully. What about physical activity? You touched on earlier, but I remember a long time ago the famous runner Jimmy Fix I believe was his name. He died young and that surprised everybody and he was so into health and all that kind of stuff. I mean there is always an anomaly and everything, but not super important on the exercise side, or moderately important.
Leslie Martin: Well, being physically active is certainly important. What we did though we looked at the kinds of activities that people did, and what we really found in the Longevity project is that the consistency is what really matters so kids who were physically active and then continue that trend throughout their lives, that was wonderful. But a lot of times we saw that kids were physically active, and then as they got older, they tapered off, and by the time they reached middle age they were really quite sedentary, and for those individuals having being physically active as a kid that didn’t give them any sort of years in the bank so to speak. What really mattered was being active starting about middle age and continuing that, so I think that’s good news in one sense, but it’s not too late to start. The other thing now that was really interesting is that it didn’t so much matter what people were doing. What mattered well is that consistency. So what we recommend from this, and what I think the Longevity project really told us is that it’s better to find something that you like doing because you are much more likely to do it consistently. I mean if you love going out, and running long distances fabulous don’t do that. but if you don’t like don’t torture yourself, you know you are not likely to keep it anyway, and you are better off finding something swimming, gardening, hiking, wood working whatever it is that you really resonate with that you will be committed to continuing.
Jason Hartman: Yeah very good point. It seems like the people who live the longest are the ones who are at the end are caught up, and they still got another project they were working on or something they want to really make happen. And having that mission seems to be important and you seem to be collaborating that. If there is sort of one or may be two things that you would say overall. What would they be? Just like the elevator pitch for longevity if it were?
Howard S. Friedman: The best advice we give people based on our you know really 20 years of studying this eight decade study is throw away all your lists, so we are always told do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. take it easy, don’t work so hard, don’t get married, eat this, eat that, cheer up and all these kinds of things many of which we found we’ve been discussing are just wrong, but really the most important thing is that making the list and trying to do simple kinds of things doesn’t work in the long run so because we were able to look across the lifespan Longevity project we feel that patterns and persistent habits are what’s really most important, so the best kinds of things to do are to associate with other people who are healthy, look at your friends, see if they are doing healthy things, and the kinds of people you really want to be around with. Look at the kind of work you are doing over the long term and change that if you can. Look at how you generally lead your life and the people who do get involved and more positive meaningful things involved with others slowly changed, so its not something you can make a New Year’s resolution and say I am going to do this, and then I am going to be healthy six months later. The Longevity project gives a lesson like think in longer terms and get yourself on the right path and you will be surprised how easy it is and how one good thing brings another and keeps you healthy.
Jason Hartman: That’s great. May be just one other kind of topic I want to touch on because it obviously it’s a huge part of people’s lives, and that is the topic of marriage and divorce. I have read studies that say that married men live longer than single men yet married women don’t live as longer as single women which on the face of it would kind of seem to say that marriage is good for men but it’s a little hard on women, but maybe that’s because mates don’t want to be without one another at the end, so I know there is some thinking on that too. What did the Longevity project show us about marriage?
Leslie Martin: Well, there were some really interesting sex differences as you just alluded to in the Longevity project. They found first of all a good study long term healthy marriage. Its good for people and its good for men and women, but you are right much better for men like it’s the women most of what’s driving that positive association is the male side of it. We also looked at people who stayed steadily single so they were never married and we saw that that was also not too bad for men I mean that steadiness was good, but being steadily married was better if you were a man, but for a woman being steadily single was virtually the same as being steadily married so that was kind of interesting. Where we saw that biggest difference was when it came to divorce, so divorce is a traumatic experience. It’s not good for everyone, but its much worst for men in terms of the mortality risk associated with it, but men are in the unique position and that they can substantially mitigate that risk if they get remarried following divorce. And for women that’s really not the case. They are just as well of to stay single following divorce as they are to get remarried and that I think is really kind of surprising and very interesting, and it speaks to the power of I think the social ties and relationships that women on average have. Women typically have girlfriends, people with whom they can talk about deep issues from whom they can illicit support, and they seem to often be more comfortable doing that, but men on average rely more heavily on their wives for social connections, and she often is the primary if not the only real confidante he has. And so that may be part of the explanation for this really pretty big difference that we are seeing in terms of outcomes following divorce for men versus women.
Jason Hartman: Now, I would have to concur with that because it does seem like women have or they tend to have not always of course, but tend to have better support networks and are closer to their friends, and I assume you are talking about girlfriends almost always than men do. Men with their guy friends are more competitive in nature, and their buddies, but it’s not as deep. It’s that what you are saying?
Leslie Martin: Yeah the dynamics of the relationship I think often are different and another thing I’d like to mention to although this wasn’t directly to earlier question but we also looked at what happened following widowhood, and you mentioned you don’t want to be with your partner and we saw that widowed women typically did quite well. Many of them went on to live quite long lives after their husbands died. But for men the risk was, the mortality risk associated with that was greater, but interestingly the men who were more worrying and anxious kind of neurotic they actually did better. If you were a widowed man, and you were higher up in age, you were more anxious in worrying, you were at about a 50% less risk of dying in the subsequent few years than men who were not warriors, so its kind of interesting you know may be the linking stuff and fulfill that caretaking sort of nagging, reminding role that perhaps the life they made for themselves was that they are warriors.
Jason Hartman: I can’t imagine. I mean Howard what do you think of that? I can’t imagine that the Longevity project is recommending neurosis.
Howard S. Friedman: Well, some place we are not in neurosis, but we are recommending people being concerned so especially as a antidote to the advisor, but he is saying don’t worry about anything just be cheerful a lot of good time, and that’s the secret to good health and we didn’t find that at all, and we find the people who are prudent, who are concerned about things who were thoughtful. They are always being told. Oh you worry too much. You are going to worry yourself to death, but in fact and those were people who didn’t worry themselves to death. They worry themselves to life, so Longevity project is really I think going to be beneficial for many people who were on the right topic paths and are always being told to do this and do that things that are not really helpful to them, so that’s how we really recommend people look at the book, you know look at the self quizzes, the assessments and scene may be they are already on a healthy path, and let me mention also that we do have a website for the book. Its howardsfriedman.com, which has links to other kinds of information and including to a Facebook page. There is a Facebook page of the Longevity project which has all kinds of information people comment and have discussions on that.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well, that is great. Leslie and Howard thank you so much. The Longevity project is certainly fascinating. It certainly affects everybody listening so they should go out and get a copy of the book and I assume in addition to the website available on Amazon bookstores etcetera right?
Howard S. Friedman: Oh yes its available everywhere.
Leslie Martin: Yeah.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for joining us today and live long and prosper.
Howard S. Friedman: Same to you, and thank you Jason, and great questions.
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Transcribed by Ralph
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