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Adaptability Can Lead to a Longer Life

April 19, 2011

Don't worry, be happy: Less stress can lead to a longer life.

Want to live to a ripe old age? Don’t let stress and setbacks get you down.

That’s the word from gerontologist and NPR commentator Dr. Mark Lachs, whose centenarian patients possess a trait that geriatricians call adaptive competence — the ability to bounce back from stress.

In his commentary on NPR.org this week, Lachs describes his oldest patient, 109-year-old Helen Reichert, as being the kind of person who dusts herself off and moves on after a century’s worth of life curveballs: gender discrimination, bereavement, medical issues.

Lachs also describes Reichert as having a self-deprecating sense of humor: When her alma mater, Cornell University, wrote to her, “You are our oldest living alum, and we’re delighted to offer you a lifetime subscription to our magazine,” Reichert responded with five indignant words: “How incredibly generous of you!”

From NPR.org:

Sociologists are studying these traits, and the theory holds up. My colleague Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health, has studied the longevity of people in their 50s as a function of their perceptions about aging.

She asked if they agreed with statements like, “Things keep getting worse as I get older,” and, “As you get older you are less useful.” Even after she controlled for their medical conditions, subjects who agreed with ideas like these died on average 7 1/2 years sooner than their glass-half-full counterparts.

So if you’re a boomer and you don’t think your outlook on aging has any impact on the rest of your life, you might want to brighten your attitude a bit.

For the full story, and more inspiring ways in which Lachs’ patients let stress roll off their backs, head on over to NPR.org.

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