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Will Your Personality
Affect How Long You Live?

Aspiring centenarians may want to take a look at their attitude, according to a Mayo Clinic study.

A person's outlook on life may not only improve longevity but quality of life, according to researchers. Optimists are said to experience a higher level of both physical and mental functioning than their pessimist counterparts.

Further, optimistic people decreased their risk of early death by a full 50 per cent compared to those who were more pessimistic.

"The wellness of being is not just physical, but attitudinal," said Dr. Toshihiko Maruta, principal author of the study. "How you perceive what goes on around you and how you interpret it may have an impact on your longevity, and it could affect the quality of your later years."

Ideas about the associations of personality and health are not new, but have their roots in the bodily humors of ancient Greece.

While the exact mechanism of how personality acts as a risk factor for early death or poorer health is unclear, Maruto says it likely has to do with the fact that pessimists have an increased chance for future problems with their physical health, career achievements, and emotional stress particularly depression.

"Yet another possibility could be more directly biological, like changes in the immune system," he adds.

Researchers found that pessimists scored below the national average on physical functioning, bodily pain, perception of general health, vitality, mental health, and social functioning.

Besides looking at the world through rosier-colored glasses, living a long and healthy life may also mean paying attention to friends and family.

Loneliness in people over age 50 greatly increases their risk of high blood pressure, according to a new study at the University of Chicago. The loneliest people studied had blood pressure readings as much as 30 points higher than those who were not lonely, suggesting that loneliness can be as bad for the heart as being overweight or inactive, said the study.

"The magnitude of this association is quite stunning," said University of Chicago scientist Louise Hawkley, the study's lead author. For those who lack companionship or feel isolated, Hawkley said the findings indicate that one strategy for treating high blood pressure might be to become more involved, "do volunteer work, make yourself useful."

The bottom line: living longer -- and better -- may come down to having a healthy attitude and social life, as well as following more traditional wellness practices such as stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Research shows that obesity, for example, contributes to diabetes, heart disease and various cancers.

Here are other steps you can take to live longer:

1. Don't sleep too much. Sleeping more than eight hours per night can reduce life expectancy, according to a February 2002 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Night owls, however, should take note: researchers say that sleeping less than four hours also increases death rates. People who sleep between six and seven hours per night were shown to live the longest.

2. Stick to a low-calorie diet. A recent study by the National Institute on Aging found that a calorie-restricted diet led to decreased insulin levels and body temperature, both considered signs of longevity. A diet low in calories but high in nutrients also led to a drop in DNA damage.

3. Have more sex. Researchers say that having intimate sex makes you happier, better rested and less stressed, which in turn can lower blood pressure and protect against stroke and heart disease. A study published in the April 2004 Journal of the American Medical Association found that "high ejaculation frequency was related to decreased risk of total prostate cancer."

4. Get a pet. People who own pets, especially dogs, have been shown to be less stressed and require fewer visits to their physicians than non-owners. Survival rates for heart attack victims who had a pet were found to be 12 per cent longer than for those who did not have one, according to researcher Erica Friedmann. Pet owners have also been shown to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to be lonely or depressed. Another healthful benefit? Pet ownership stimulates exercise.

5. Quit smoking. Middle-aged men who are long-term, heavy smokers face twice the risk of developing more aggressive forms of prostate cancer than men who have never smoked, according to a study that appeared in the July 2003 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. And according to a recent study in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, cigarette smoking has been clearly linked to the most common causes of death in the elderly. "Smoking is -- for all but some exceptional subjects -- incompatible with successful aging and compromises life expectancy even in extreme longevity," the study states.

6. Manage your anger. A study led by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2002 found that men who responded to stress with high levels of anger were over three times more likely to develop premature heart disease when compared to men who reported lower anger responses. Furthermore, because anger is associated with high blood pressure, they were over six times more likely to have a heart attack by the age of 55.

7. Eat your antioxidants. Found in foods such as blueberries, artichokes, beans, cinnamon and cloves, antioxidant molecules scavenge free radicals, compounds whose unstable chemical nature accelerates the effect of aging on the cells. Cellular damage contributes to an array of degenerative diseases, including atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Research shows that certain types of beans are among the best sources of antioxidants, while blueberries and other berries follow close behind.

8. Stop nagging. Married couples who engage in heated arguments are more likely to have health problems than those who do not, according to a study at the University of Utah. Based on 150 healthy, older married couples, researchers found that women who are hostile toward their husbands are more likely to have hardening of the arteries. Men who are controlling in their relations -- or are married to someone who is -- are more likely to have atherosclerosis, a very serious condition of the coronary arteries.

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