Live Past 100: Be Conscientious
Most people who live to an old age do so not because they have beaten cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease; rather, the long-lived have mostly avoided serious ailments altogether.
That’s what Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin say in their book, The Longevity Project. The book is based on research that has been ongoing for over 80 years involving 1,528 bright 11 year-olds from San Francisco. These individuals have been studied since 1921.
A major key to avoiding serious ailments is being conscientious. Conscientiousness is the best childhood personality predictor of longevity – something that I would not have predicted to be the best predictor. Long life belongs to those who are prudent, persistent, and well-organized according to Friedman and Martin. What’s the single best social predictor of longevity? Having a strong social network according to these researchers.
Why Do the Conscientious Live Longer?
Based on their work, Friedman and Martin offer three reasons why the conscientious are more likely to live longer.
- Conscientious people typically do not engage in risky health behaviors. They don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, they wear seat belts while driving, and they follow their doctor’s advice, etc.
- The neurochemistry and physiology of conscientious people appears to be such that it protects them from disease in general, beyond those caused by unhealthy habits.
- Conscientious people tend to gravitate to healthier situations – healthier and happier marriages, stronger friendships, and better work situations.
Like attracts like, and conscientious people attract other conscientious people into their lives. Conscientious people seem better able to weather the storms of life and have healthier coping skills. They experience the same problems as others, but are better able to move on. Persistence and the ability to manage life’s challenges are better predictors of longevity than IQ or profession.
There are only 53,000 centenarians living in the US (people who have made it past 100) representing a mere 0.2% of the population. These unique individuals share other common factors besides conscientiousness.
Centenarians have personality traits that include being outgoing, optimistic, and easygoing. They enjoy laughter and they remain mentally and physically active. They also tend to express their emotions and have low levels of neuroticism.
How Conscientious Are You?
Take the following survey to gauge how conscientious you are. Rate your response to each of the following 10 statements using the following key:
- Very inaccurate
- Moderately inaccurate
- Neither accurate or inaccurate
- Moderately accurate
- Very accurate.
Here are the 10 statements.
- I am always prepared.
- I leave my belongings around.
- I enjoy planning my work in detail.
- I make a mess of things.
- I get chores done right away.
- I often forget to put things back in their proper place.
- I like order.
- I shirk my duties.
- I follow schedule.
- I am persistent in the accomplishment of my work and ends.
The scoring of this survey is confusing (I would have been more conscientious in developing the scoring of this). For questions 1,3,5,7,9, and 10 assign 5 points for each “very accurate” response, 4 points for each “moderately accurate” response, 3 points for each “neither accurate or inaccurate” response, 2 points for each “moderately inaccurate response”, and one point for each “very inaccurate” response. For questions 2,4,6, and 8 reverse the scoring – so assign 5 points for each “very inaccurate” response, and so on.
The lowest score is a 10 and the highest is 50. The higher the score the more conscientious you are, and possibly the longer you will live. Scores between 37 and 50 reflect a high level of conscientiousness.
Also, have someone who knows you well “score” you on these 10 statements.
Are you conscientious enough to make it to 100?