FACTORS KEY TO MAXIMIZING LONGEVITY: Physiology, attitude and social interaction can make a difference

Source: Delagrammatikas, Lori.The San Diego Union-Tribune 5 June 2012, Accessed 7 June 2012.

A lucky few have “longevity genes” that make long life possible even if they smoke, drink, clog their arteries with fat and never ever exercise. For these lucky few, the rules don’t apply. But for the majority of us, environmental factors — many of which we can control — account for 70 percent to 80 percent of our longevity.

Studies show there are really three factors that make the difference:

1. Your “physiologic reserve” — the capacity left in your muscles, brain and organs to accomplish the tasks of daily living.

2. Your financial health and attitude toward the future.

3. Your social networks.

Physiologic Reserve: Essentially, our bodies fail because we push them past their warranty period. We use up the reserves of our muscles, brain and organs. But it’s possible to extend the warranty. Small changes in lifestyle such as taking a daily walk, cutting out one doughnut a week, eating a few more vegetables, lifting light weights or doing weight-bearing exercise will preserve the body’s reserves.

A 45-year-old who starts and continues taking a short walk every day to slow down the loss of muscle mass can extend her functional muscle strength 20 years.

Financial health and attitude: Those who are financially secure live longer. And it’s not just because they have access to better health care and living conditions. Their longevity is associated with behavior traits that go along with being wealthy: enjoying continuing education, being conscientious about important routines, optimism about the future and having the reserves to bounce back from physical, mental and environmental stress.

This is good news for those of us who are not wealthy. Enjoying life fully and having a positive attitude makes a difference. Optimists live 7.5 years longer than pessimists.

Social networks: Social butterflies live longer. If you have friends to see, places to go, people who are there for you providing support, you’ll live longer. It’s as simple as that. There’s a 20 percent increase in breast cancer survival rates for women who are socially connected. And social support is a predictor of survival for men who suffer a heart attack regardless of how severe the damage.

For help linking up with others to stay active, fit and involved, call San Diego Aging and Independent Services at (800) 510-2020.

Lori Delagrammatikas is the program manager at San Diego State University School of Social Work’s Academy for Professional Excellence.