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9/18/2017 Over nearly 80 years, Harvard study has been showing how to live a healthy and happy life

althy and happy life | Harvard Gazette

Goodgenesarenice,butjoyisbetter
news.harvard.edu /gazette/story/2017/04/overnearly80yearsharvardstudyhasbeenshowinghowtolivea
healthyandhappylife/
ByAlvinPowell,HarvardStaffWriter| 4/11/2017

SecondinanoccasionalseriesonhowHarvardresearchersaretacklingtheproblematicissuesofaging.

Whenscientistsbegantrackingthehealthof268Harvardsophomoresin1938duringtheGreatDepression,they
hopedthelongitudinalstudywouldrevealcluestoleadinghealthyandhappylives.

Theygotmorethantheywanted.

AfterfollowingthesurvivingCrimsonmenfornearly80yearsaspartoftheHarvardStudyofAdultDevelopment,
oneoftheworldslongeststudiesofadultlife,researchershavecollectedacornucopiaofdataontheirphysicaland
mentalhealth.

OftheoriginalHarvardcohortrecruitedaspartoftheGrantStudy,only19arestillalive,allintheirmid90s.Among
theoriginalrecruitswereeventualPresidentJohnF.KennedyandlongtimeWashingtonPosteditorBenBradlee.
(WomenwerentintheoriginalstudybecausetheCollegewasstillallmale.)

Inaddition,scientistseventuallyexpandedtheirresearchtoincludethemensoffspring,whonownumber1,300and
areintheir50sand60s,tofindouthowearlylifeexperiencesaffecthealthandagingovertime.Someparticipants
wentontobecomesuccessfulbusinessmen,doctors,lawyers,whileothersendedupasschizophrenicsor
alcoholics,butnotoninevitabletracks.

Duringtheinterveningdecades,thecontrolgroupshaveexpanded.Inthe1970s,456Bostoninnercityresidents
wereenlistedaspartoftheGlueckStudy,and40ofthemarestillalive.Morethanadecadeago,researchers
beganincludingwivesintheGrantandGlueckstudies.

Overtheyears,researchershavestudiedtheparticipantshealthtrajectoriesandtheirbroaderlives,includingtheir
triumphsandfailuresincareersandmarriage,andthefindinghaveproducedstartlinglessons,andnotonlyforthe
researchers.

Thesurprisingfindingisthatourrelationshipsandhowhappyweareinourrelationshipshasapowerfulinfluence
onourhealth,saidRobertWaldinger,directorofthestudy,apsychiatristatMassachusettsGeneralHospitalanda
professorofpsychiatryatHarvardMedicalSchool.Takingcareofyourbodyisimportant,buttendingtoyour
relationshipsisaformofselfcaretoo.That,Ithink,istherevelation.

Closerelationships,morethanmoneyorfame,arewhatkeeppeoplehappythroughouttheirlives,thestudy
revealed.Thosetiesprotectpeoplefromlifesdiscontents,helptodelaymentalandphysicaldecline,andarebetter
predictorsoflongandhappylivesthansocialclass,IQ,orevengenes.Thatfindingprovedtrueacrosstheboard
amongboththeHarvardmenandtheinnercityparticipants.

Thelongtermresearchhasreceivedfundingfromprivatefoundations,buthasbeenfinancedlargelybygrantsfrom
theNationalInstitutesofHealth,firstthroughtheNationalInstituteofMentalHealth,andmorerecentlythroughthe
NationalInstituteonAging.

Researcherswhohaveporedthroughdata,includingvastmedicalrecordsandhundredsofinpersoninterviews
andquestionnaires,foundastrongcorrelationbetweenmensflourishinglivesandtheirrelationshipswithfamily,
friends,andcommunity.Severalstudiesfoundthatpeopleslevelofsatisfactionwiththeirrelationshipsatage50
wasabetterpredictorofphysicalhealththantheircholesterollevelswere.

Whenwegatheredtogethereverythingweknewaboutthemaboutatage50,itwasnttheirmiddleagecholesterol
levelsthatpredictedhowtheyweregoingtogrowold,saidWaldingerinapopularTEDTalk.Itwashowsatisfied
theywereintheirrelationships.Thepeoplewhowerethemostsatisfiedintheirrelationshipsatage50werethe
healthiestatage80.
9/18/2017 Over nearly 80 years, Harvard study has been showing how to live a healthy and happy life | Harvard Gazette

Whatmakesagoodlife?Lessonsfromthelongeststudyonhappiness

Whatkeepsushappyandhealthyaswegothroughlife?Ifyouthinkitsfameandmoney,yourenotalonebut,
accordingtopsychiatristRobertWaldinger,youremistaken.Asthedirectorofa75yearoldstudyonadult
development,Waldingerhasunprecedentedaccesstodataontruehappinessandsatisfaction.Inthistalk,he
sharesthreeimportantlessonslearnedfromthestudyaswellassomepractical,oldasthehillswisdomonhowto
buildafulfilling,longlife.

HerecordedhisTEDtalk,titledWhatMakesaGoodLife?LessonsfromtheLongestStudyonHappiness,in
2015,andithasbeenviewed13,000,000times.

Theresearchersalsofoundthatmaritalsatisfactionhasaprotectiveeffectonpeoplesmentalhealth.Partofastudy
foundthatpeoplewhohadhappymarriagesintheir80sreportedthattheirmoodsdidntsufferevenonthedays
whentheyhadmorephysicalpain.Thosewhohadunhappymarriagesfeltbothmoreemotionalandphysicalpain.

Thosewhokeptwarmrelationshipsgottolivelongerandhappier,saidWaldinger,andthelonersoftendiedearlier.
Lonelinesskills,hesaid.Itsaspowerfulassmokingoralcoholism.

Accordingtothestudy,thosewholivedlongerandenjoyedsoundhealthavoidedsmokingandalcoholinexcess.
Researchersalsofoundthatthosewithstrongsocialsupportexperiencedlessmentaldeteriorationastheyaged.

Inpartofarecentstudy,researchersfoundthatwomenwhofeltsecurelyattachedtotheirpartnerswereless
depressedandmorehappyintheirrelationshipstwoandahalfyearslater,andalsohadbettermemoryfunctions
thanthosewithfrequentmaritalconflicts.

Lonelinesskills.Itsaspowerfulassmokingoralcoholism.
RobertWaldinger

Goodrelationshipsdontjustprotectourbodiestheyprotectourbrains,saidWaldingerinhisTEDtalk.Andthose
goodrelationships,theydonthavetobesmoothallthetime.Someofouroctogenariancouplescouldbickerwith
eachotherdayinanddayout,butaslongastheyfeltthattheycouldreallycountontheotherwhenthegoinggot
tough,thoseargumentsdidnttakeatollontheirmemories.

Sinceagingstartsatbirth,peopleshouldstarttakingcareofthemselvesateverystageoflife,theresearcherssay.

Agingisacontinuousprocess,Waldingersaid.Youcanseehowpeoplecanstarttodifferintheirhealthtrajectory
intheir30s,sothatbytakinggoodcareofyourselfearlyinlifeyoucansetyourselfonabettercourseforaging.The
bestadviceIcangiveisTakecareofyourbodyasthoughyouweregoingtoneeditfor100years,becauseyou
might.

Thestudy,likeitsremainingoriginalsubjects,hashadalonglife,spanningfourdirectors,whosetenuresreflected
theirmedicalinterestsandviewsofthetime.

Underthefirstdirector,ClarkHeath,whostayedfrom1938until1954,thestudymirroredtheerasdominantviewof
geneticsandbiologicaldeterminism.Earlyresearchersbelievedthatphysicalconstitution,intellectualability,and
personalitytraitsdeterminedadultdevelopment.Theymadedetailedanthropometricmeasurementsofskulls,brow
bridges,andmoles,wroteindepthnotesonthefunctioningofmajororgans,examinedbrainactivitythrough
electroencephalograms,andevenanalyzedthemenshandwriting.

Now,researchersdrawmensbloodforDNAtestingandputthemintoMRIscannerstoexamineorgansandtissues
intheirbodies,proceduresthatwouldhavesoundedlikesciencefictionbackin1938.Inthatsense,thestudyitself
representsahistoryofthechangesthatlifebrings.

PsychiatristGeorgeVaillant,whojoinedtheteamasaresearcherin1966,ledthestudyfrom1972until2004.
Trainedasapsychoanalyst,Vaillantemphasizedtheroleofrelationships,andcametorecognizethecrucialrole
theyplayedinpeoplelivinglongandpleasantlives.
9/18/2017 Over nearly 80 years, Harvard study has been showing how to live a healthy and happy life | Harvard Gazette

Whenthestudybegan,nobodycaredaboutempathyorattachment.Butthekeytohealthyagingis
relationships,relationships,relationships.
GeorgeVaillant

InabookcalledAgingWell,VaillantwrotethatsixfactorspredictedhealthyagingfortheHarvardmen:physical
activity,absenceofalcoholabuseandsmoking,havingmaturemechanismstocopewithlifesupsanddowns,and
enjoyingbothahealthyweightandastablemarriage.Fortheinnercitymen,educationwasanadditionalfactor.
Themoreeducationtheinnercitymenobtained,wroteVaillant,themorelikelytheyweretostopsmoking,eat
sensibly,andusealcoholinmoderation.

Vaillantsresearchhighlightedtheroleoftheseprotectivefactorsinhealthyaging.Themorefactorsthesubjects
hadinplace,thebettertheoddstheyhadforlonger,happierlives.

Whenthestudybegan,nobodycaredaboutempathyorattachment,saidVaillant.Butthekeytohealthyagingis
relationships,relationships,relationships.

Thestudyshowedthattheroleofgeneticsandlonglivedancestorsprovedlessimportanttolongevitythanthelevel
ofsatisfactionwithrelationshipsinmidlife,nowrecognizedasagoodpredictorofhealthyaging.Theresearchalso
debunkedtheideathatpeoplespersonalitiessetlikeplasterbyage30andcannotbechanged.

Thosewhowereclearlytrainwreckswhentheywereintheir20sor25sturnedouttobewonderfuloctogenarians,
hesaid.Ontheotherhand,alcoholismandmajordepressioncouldtakepeoplewhostartedlifeasstarsandleave
themattheendoftheirlivesastrainwrecks.

Thestudysfourthdirector,Waldingerhasexpandedresearchtothewivesandchildrenoftheoriginalmen.Thatis
thesecondgenerationstudy,andWaldingerhopestoexpanditintothethirdandfourthgenerations.Itwillprobably
neverbereplicated,hesaidofthelengthyresearch,addingthatthereisyetmoretolearn.

Weretryingtoseehowpeoplemanagestress,whethertheirbodiesareinasortofchronicfightorflightmode,
Waldingersaid.Wewanttofindouthowitisthatadifficultchildhoodreachesacrossdecadestobreakdownthe
bodyinmiddleageandlater.

LaraTang18,ahumanandevolutionarybiologyconcentratorwhorecentlyjoinedtheteamasaresearchassistant,
relishestheopportunitytohelpfindsomeofthoseanswers.ShejoinedtheeffortaftercomingacrossWaldingers
TEDtalkinoneofherclasses.

Thatmotivatedmetodomoreresearchonadultdevelopment,saidTang.Iwanttoseehowchildhood
experiencesaffectdevelopmentsofphysicalhealth,mentalhealth,andhappinesslaterinlife.

Askedwhatlessonshehaslearnedfromthestudy,Waldinger,whoisaZenpriest,saidhepracticesmeditation
dailyandinveststimeandenergyinhisrelationships,morethanbefore.

Itseasytogetisolated,togetcaughtupinworkandnotremembering,Oh,Ihaventseenthesefriendsinalong
time,Waldingersaid.SoItrytopaymoreattentiontomyrelationshipsthanIusedto.