What better cohort to study when it comes to the secrets of longevity that the world's elite club of centenarians? That was the logic behind the research of two separate teams of scientists, the Longevity Genes Project launched by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University Medical Center. Both teams found that among people who have reached their tenth decade and beyond, the most salient trait they share is an abiding sense of optimism. As HealthDay put it, "If you want to live a long life, accent the positive and keep laughing."
The participants in the Longevity Genes Project were of Eastern European Jewish descent – the Ashkenazi, a group known to live well beyond what the actuarial charts would predict. The findings were discussed in the May 21st online edition of the journal Aging. "We really were not sure what got them to their advanced age," study co-author Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research and chair of its division of Aging Research, admitted according to HealthDay. "Was it their personality, or something more in their genetics?" Barzai went on to say, however, "Our findings that these centenarians share such positive personality traits suggest that they may be associated with longevity."
Even more fascinating, he added that "the main message of the study is that [although] these centenarians have a 'nice' personality now, that was not always the case." In other words, it may never be too late to work on a shift in your outlook so that you become a glass-half-full person with a sense of humor.
Corroborating that idea, Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study, said the findings confirm several observations he and his colleagues have made in the past. Perls' team looked at personality traits typically found among the children of centenarians and saw that "those who are high in neuroticism tend to dwell on things and internalize their stress rather than let it go. This can translate into increased risk for cardiovascular disease. High extroversion may lead to a better ability to establish social support networks -- which is very good for older people -- and to be cognitively engaged."
Sounds as though a popular song lyric is in fact true: "Live, love, laugh and be happy." There could be worse mandates!