Relationship satisfaction at age 50 might be a better predictor of later health than cholesterol! A 75-year Harvard study has uncovered this surprising truth and more with regards to relationships. Even bicker-filled marital relationships lead to healthier lives if the spouses can depend on each other when times are tough.
Relationships Are Key to Quality Longevity Says Harvard Study
When scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938 during the Great Depression, they hoped the longitudinal study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives.
“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.”
Close relationships protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.
There is a strong correlation between men’s flourishing lives and their relationships with family, friends, and community. Satisfaction with relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were.
People who had happy marriages in their 80s reported that their moods didn’t suffer even on the days when they had more physical pain. Those who had unhappy marriages felt both more emotional and physical pain.
Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier, said Waldinger, and the loners often died earlier. “Loneliness kills,” he said. “It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
“Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they protect our brains,” said Waldinger in his TED talk. “And those good relationships, they don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories.”
“Aging is a continuous process,” Waldinger said. “You can see how people can start to differ in their health trajectory in their 30s, so that by taking good care of yourself early in life you can set yourself on a better course for aging. The best advice I can give is ‘Take care of your body as though you were going to need it for 100 years,’ because you might.”
“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” said Vaillant. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
The role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife, now recognized as a good predictor of healthy aging. Also debunked is the idea that people’s personalities “set like plaster” by age 30 and cannot be changed.
“Those who were clearly train wrecks when they were in their 20s or 25s turned out to be wonderful octogenarians,” he said. “On the other hand, alcoholism and major depression could take people who started life as stars and leave them at the end of their lives as train wrecks.” read more at news.harvard.edu
Taking a closer look at improving our personal relationships to improve our health is important. Time to find a relationship doctor!