The 7 Laws of Healthy Old Age

Based on nearly 80 years of studying adult development, researchers narrowed down seven tenets that lead to a long, healthy, fulfilling life.
August 11, 2017

1. Continue learning.

Compared to participants of the inner-city Glueck study, the Grant men lived on average 10 years longer than their less-educated peers. However, the 6 percent of Glueck men who graduated from college were just as healthy, even in old age, as the Grant men.

2. Don’t smoke.

In both studies (and excluding alcohol abuse), smoking was the greatest contributor to disease and early death in both studies.

3. Don’t abuse alcohol.

Alcohol was the single greatest contributor to disease and early death in both studies; 57 percent of participant divorces involved alcoholism. But it wasn’t a bad marriage that led to drinking; quite the opposite. Longtime study director George Vaillant concluded that “alcohol is a cause, rather than a result, of life’s problems.”

4. Exercise and (5.) maintain a healthy weight.

In a surprising twist, the study found that health predicts exercise at every age, but exercise didn’t predict health in old age. In other words, don’t expect your treadmill to counterbalance that cheat-day pizza.

6. Find healthy ways to cope with life’s lemons.

Part of the maturation process is transforming unhealthy defense mechanisms (self-absorbed) into healthy ones (altruistic). The study separates defense mechanisms into four categories, ranking from worst to best: psychotic, immature, neurotic and mature. Participants with poor defense mechanisms typically turned to alcoholism, smoking, depression and unhealthy life habits.

7. Foster positive relationships.

Touted as the single greatest predictor of success, Vaillant famously concluded: “Happiness is love. Full stop.” As social creatures, we simply cannot thrive without strong social connections.

Related: The Secret to Happiness Is Just Love


This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

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