Personality may be the key to longevity

Many of the centenarians had a positive attitude towards life. Image: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock

Being outgoing and enjoying laughter could help you reach 100.

The secret to living longer is believed to be in our genes. Until now, research into longevity has focused on factors that give us a physiological advantage, such as good cholesterol.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, US, have found that being outgoing, optimistic and easygoing may also be part of the longevity genes mix. Enjoying laughter and staying engaged in activities also played an important role.

In this study the researchers examined 243 centenarians in order to detect genetically based personal characteristics. Lead researcher Nir Barzilai thought he and his team would find that centenarians lived so long because they were mean and ornery. But when they assessed their personalities, they found qualities that reflected a positive attitude towards life. “Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing,” he says. “They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up.”

While the researchers could see that there are genes associated with this personality, they had to assume that most personal attributed did not change. There is evidence that our personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so Barzilai doesn’t know whether the centenarians have maintained these personality traits across their entire lifespans.

“Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity.”

But while enjoying life is important, there are still other genetic factors in the longevity mix that play an important role in how long you will live. “It certainly does not mean that if someone adopts a ‘nice’ personality he/she will live to be 100, although it will be nice to have only positive people around,” Barzilai explains.

The identification of longevity genes could live to new drug therapies to help people live longer, healthier lives. It could also help them avoid or delay the onset of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

These findings come from Einstein’s Longevity Genes Project, which is examining more than 500 healthy elderly people between the ages of 95 and 122, and on their children.

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