Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 May

7 Characteristics Associated with Long Life (and How to Cultivate Them)

Be Happy!As much as we focus on food and fitness as the “physical” arbiters of health and longevity, there appears to be much more to it. In fact, most research fails to find any grand commonalities in the diet and fitness patterns of the longest lived. From Okinawans with their sweet potatoes to Japanese centenarians with their dairy to the Ashkenazi with their higher rates of smoking, drinking, and lower rates of formal exercise to the 107 year old with her butter, no exercise, and mistrust of medicine to the supercentenarians with their liver, bacon, wine, chocolate, and eggs to the other supercentenarians with their caloric restriction. Sure, they’re generally not eating Twinkies and Panda Express, but the secret to longevity – at least as it’s practiced by living centenarians – does not lie in one specific diet.

So what is it? One main determinant appears to be whether you have certain alleles. You can’t change that (not yet anyway), but there are some things you can control. What you can affect – and what appears to have a big effect on, or at least a strong association with longevity – are personality traits and characteristics. How you see the world. How you engage life. How you interact with others. Now, to be sure, many personality traits are somewhat out of your conscious control, whether genetically determined or set in motion by events long-past, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to cultivate or emulate them.

What are some of these characteristics?

Socially Connected

Perhaps one of the prime directives of the human is to be social. To have friends and loved ones upon whom you can lean when required or desired. I’m not necessarily talking about being the guy with a thousand Facebook friends who’s out every night living it up, or even the lady who always runs into someone she knows when out and about. Socially connected simply means having meaningful relationships with other people. It could be ten, twenty, or five. The point is that it helps to have actual, real friends and loved ones, and we’re probably evolutionarily driven to want and make them because they provide a benefit to survival.

Why might social connections support longevity? The research is ongoing, but I can think of a few reasons. First, people with meaningful relationships can call on them for help in times of need and hardship. Need some rent money or to pay for an important surgical procedure? You can probably count on friends and family to help. Recovering from said surgical procedure and need someone to help you get groceries and cook? Call a friend or family member. Need a ride? Call someone you know. If you don’t know anyone you can count on, your options will be limited.

Second, social isolation and loneliness are often associated with negative health patterns, like obesity, inactivity, and smoking. Plus, the socially isolated and lonely are more likely to have hypertension, elevated inflammatory markers, and increased blood clotting. In one study, people who had close friends in the same room with them had less of a blood pressure and heart rate increase in response to stress. Another study found that in people exposed to a cold virus, those with more social connections were less likely to actually get sick than those with fewer social connections.

It’s good to have friends. All else being equal, the person who’s happy with their relationships is probably going to live longer than the person who’s unhappy with or bereft of social connections.


  • Use social networks like Facebook and Meetup to arrange real life activities and augment your social lives. Make plans with friends and follow up on them. Join a Meetup group that sounds interesting and attend the events. It’s easy to let social media replace our social interactions, but it’s not a preordained inevitability.
  • Don’t be that person who regrets not calling/contacting their friends more. Some people truly have no friends or family, but that’s rare. More often than not, people just aren’t willing to make the effort, maybe because they don’t see the need, maybe because they’re lazy, maybe because they’re anxious, or maybe because they’re waiting for the other person to contact them. Be proactive in fostering and maintaining the relationships you already have.


According to health researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin, conscientiousness is a big (perhaps the biggest) influence on longevity. Using data from a study that began in 1921 and followed a group of 1500 boys and girls into old age and beyond, the two found that the kids who were “prudent, persistent, planful” went on to live the longest lives, while the “cheerful and optimistic” children lived shorter lives. The former group tended to take fewer risks, be more responsible about their health, and cultivate a better social network. They also had more satisfying and successful professional lives. Overall, the persistent, industrious, organized, and disciplined “facets of conscientiousness” were most strongly associated with longevity.

This connection is well-researched. Conscientious people tend to be healthier and take better care of themselves. Childhood conscientiousness is linked to better health later on in life. Most of the connection between conscientiousness and longevity can be explained by obvious factors, like the fact that thoughtful people are more likely to care about their diet and other health-related behaviors and therefore make better health-related decisions, but not all of it. Conscientiousness, for example, also seems to go hand-in-hand with cognitive function and it may even be protective against Alzheimer’s and other diseases of cognitive degeneration. Those who are conscientious may also deal with stress better than those who are not, probably by virtue of being better prepared for it.

There’s got to be a balance, though, I’d imagine. What if conscientiousness veers into obsession? What if dedication to self-discipline devolves into self-flagellation? What if hard work becomes workaholicism and breaks up your marriage?


  • Practice, practice, practice. Make schedules and budgets. Plan out your day, and hew to the plan. If you aren’t naturally disciplined and organized, you can still become conscientious – it’s just gonna be a bit harder. 
  • Don’t just self-analyze. Ask others close to you about their perception of your conscientiousness, and adjust accordingly. After all, the original 1921 study analyzed the kids’ personalities by asking their parents, not the kids themselves.

Don’t Worry Too Much

Longer lived people (and waterfowl) are able to let things slide off their backs. They tend to be easy going and don’t get hung up on silly stuff as much. Consider the interplay with conscientiousness, however. Just as too much conscientiousness might manifest as obsessiveness and lead to poorer health and longevity, being too carefree might lead to poor decision-making and flagrant abuse of one’s health. A balance is likely best, where you don’t sweat the small stuff enough to heap unnecessary stress upon your back but take the important aspects of life seriously.


  • Don’t cry over spilled milk (unless it’s raw and comes from grass-fed Jersey cows, of course). Better yet, get down on the floor and lap it all up. 
  • Forgive people. If there’s something you’ve been mulling over, some perceived slight, some past transgression, consider forgiving that person and moving on. 
  • When you’re worked up about something, stop and ask yourself what exactly is bothering you so much. Get specific when you answer. You might just find there’s nothing there. 
  • Make a list of all the things you tend to worry about. Then, objectively analyze the relative “seriousness” of each item. Discard the items that aren’t very serious. Make specific plans to take care of the serious items that merit your attention. Once this is completed, you’ll have discarded the frivolous stressors and made plans to tackle the serious ones. The point is you’ll have less to worry about now.
  • Look into Stoicism. Here’s a decent representation of what it’s all about. You can’t control everything, and you have to be okay with that.
  • Explore stress-reducing herbs and teas.
  • Meditate.


Seemingly contrary to the other findings about optimistic kids dying earlier, some research suggests that optimism is a good predictor of longevity. Optimists are more resistant to stress, generally lead longer and healthier lives than pessimists, and, well, optimism seems to be encoded into our genome. According to neuroscientist Tali Sharot, “optimism was selected by evolution precisely because, on balance, positive expectations enhance the odds of survival.”

I wrote about this last year. Optimists, quite simply, are fighters. They’re fighters because they can see a point to it all, a light glimmering at the end of the tunnel, and so they continue on. They don’t give up, because why would you if things are going to work out? To an optimist, things only fail because you gave up on them. If you’re faced with a cancer diagnosis – say, lung cancer – and you’re an optimist, you’re more likely to survive longer.


  • Look at the bright side of a “bad” situation. That’s it. Just look at it. Perceive it. Observe it. Acknowledge it. When you do that in an objective way, you can’t help but feel a little better about the situation.
  • Throw yourself out there anyway. Things aren’t that bad. Trust me. When you actually go out and face it and it goes okay, you’ve just learned that things aren’t always as bad as you assume.
  • Get those small wins that lead to big success (and optimism).

Easy to Laugh

There’s considerable research that ease of laughter is a strong predictor of longevity. He who laughs most, laughs last, in other words. Laughter isn’t just enjoyable. It’s also really good for you. It reduces stress and improves natural killer cell (a part of your immune system responsible for fighting cancer and other diseases) activity. It lowers cortisol. While growth hormone is best known for its fat-burning effects, it can also have a negative impact in rheumatoid arthritis; laughter reduces the RA-associated growth hormone increase. Overall, laughter simply has “positive, quantifiable effects on certain aspects of health.”


  • Watch funny media. Whether you like Laurel and Hardy or Tim and Eric, find something that you determine generates a high level of mirthful activity in your brain and expose yourself to it, repeatedly. 
  • Watch standup. I recommend Louis CK.
  • Just laugh. This sounds obvious, but you don’t even have to find something funny in order to laugh. In the immortal words of George Costanza, “What is the point of opening your mouth and going ‘Ha-ha!’?” It’s that easy. Force yourself to laugh and the real feelings will likely follow. Do this once a day, minimum.
  • Try laughter yoga. It’s exactly what it sounds like.


In 2011, a study of older men and women found that those who were happiest throughout the day lived the longest. Interestingly, this association was independent of baseline health status or other variables, suggesting that momentary happiness “may be causally related to survival, or may be a marker of underlying biological, behavioral, or temperamental factors.” Even those with chronic diseases saw longevity benefits from being happy.

I think this comes down to something very simple: happy people have “something to live for.” They have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Yeah, yeah, a meaningful career, grandkids, a loving spouse, a faithful dog – these are all good reasons to keep living. But when it comes down to it, if you can wake up confident in the fact that your day is going to be an enjoyable, happy one, you will live better and live longer.


  • Live life. Unless we’re talking chemically-induced happiness, happiness doesn’t just spring up out of nothing. You are happy because good things are happening in real, actual life. Maybe you just got a puppy or a girlfriend. Maybe you got a great new job. Maybe you’re reading a good book. Maybe you went on a hike and the flowers were blooming. The point is happiness is a reaction to happy events. You’re not really going to be able to “think yourself” happy. 
  • Do things that you know you’re going to enjoy and appreciate even if they require momentary unhappiness. You know how you’re always happy when you get up early enough to do some gardening (or hike, or work out, or clean the kitchen, or make a good breakfast) before it gets too hot (or late), but getting out of bed to actually do it is a short struggle that you usually lose? Just do it anyway. It’s not that bad. Play the long game.


Extraversion is a significant predictor of longevity, happiness, resistance to stress, and even mood regulation in the face of unpleasant situations. I tend to suspect that introverts might not live as long not because of something inherent to introverts, but because modern society is geared toward and favors extraversion. An introvert probably experiences more stress in response to social fundamentals, like job interviews, small talk, presentations, and anything else where extraversion helps. You can be introverted and completely comfortable with that fact and be totally fine, or at least minimize the downsides. But if you’re an introvert who’s unhappy, who’s envious of extroverts, you may suffer.

Also, extraversion is more “costly.” A study of older adults found that in order to maintain their psychological well-being, extraverts needed large social networks.


  • Act the part. Even though social interaction may be more difficult for introverts, “acting like” an extrovert can increase well-being just the same, even in introverts
  • Start a conversation at least once a day. Go up and talk to people.
  • Introversion does not imply social isolation. You may not be the life of the party, but you can still have quality relationships – perhaps just with fewer people.

That’s about it for today, folks. I hope this was a helpful post and that you can begin cultivating some of these traits in your own lives. Be sure to let me know what you think – any good anecdotes about the personalities of long-lived people you’ve known?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. My Great Aunt lived to be 97, 96 of those years in virtually perfect health. Her secret was…
    1. Never listen to your doctor
    2. Eat a piece of chocolate every day
    3. Never get married.

    Cindy wrote on May 15th, 2013
    • LOL – I’m good on the first two but have completely missed the boat on the third. I’ll take a shorter life for the mess in my house and the husband who sleeps in my bed.

      Amy wrote on May 15th, 2013
      • Me too! I’m sure my family has knocked a few years off my life already.

        Cindy wrote on May 15th, 2013
  2. These are good, and there’s science behind it.

    I’m in the process of writing a course in becoming “ageproof”. What Mark writes here I put in the first module called, “Mindset”. If you don’t get this right, develop the right attitude, then none of the rest of the methodology will matter, which is:

    Reset — detoxification
    Refuel — hormone balancing nutrition and supplementation
    Move — functional fitness and mobility

    Put these four together and you have a great chance of living long and strong.



    Joe Garma wrote on May 15th, 2013
  3. Who cares how long you live? Just Love everything within your senses’ radius.

    Nack wrote on May 15th, 2013
    • I agree Nack – who cares how long you live? I don’t want to live to be 100 or even 90. I read a lot of medical records and some of that stuff gets pretty difficult to bear. I’m going for strong and healthy and mid-80’s!

      Vanessa wrote on May 16th, 2013
  4. As much as I love being out, and social I am equally as happy home and just with my family. i think it’s good to have balance, like anything in life. just my two cents.

    kate wrote on May 15th, 2013
  5. I agree 100% with the social aspect. I’ve seen so many people suffer from depression because they have no social activity, no friends or family to talk to, and no one significant to rely on. Those networks are so important for all of us.

    Susan wrote on May 15th, 2013
  6. It just goes to show that life is not short, it is long and we may as well make it a happy and healthy one!

    Sarah Perez wrote on May 15th, 2013
  7. As I’m “pushing 80”, and keeping the glass half full, this reading is good food for thought. Most important, though, I would add, is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior. Nothin’ beats His tender, loving care!!

    joanne smart wrote on May 15th, 2013
  8. Very interesting article, Mark. I enjoyed it and plan to work on cultivating several of these aspects of my life.
    My only issue with the content was that I don’t necessarily agree with how you’ve portrayed introversion vs extroversion- The currently accepted definition of the two doesn’t rely on a certain level of “outgoingness”, which your article associates with extroverts, but rather the source from which we get our energy (extroverts gain energy from social settings and introverts expend energy socially, necessitating some “alone time” to recharge.) There exist shy extroverts (hard as it is to believe), and outgoing introverts. I am one of the latter.
    The tone I got from the article is that introverts inherently struggle more with interviews, presentations, etc., and don’t socialize as much, and I think that is an oversimplification and not true in many cases. I am an introvert (I always need my alone time to rejuvenate or I never feel quite right) but I am actually quite social when I want to be and have been called “the life of the party”. That being said, too much time around others seriously drains me! As a scientist, I present my research frequently and am very skilled at oral communication, and I doubt that interviews stress me out any more than others- in fact I do well at them. My point is that I think the true issue is that certain traits, like socializing (as mentioned in your paragraph on social networking) are good for longevity, but this isn’t necessarily something that an extrovert would experience more than an introvert, although I can see how the connection could be made. There is such an introversion-extroversion spectrum, anyway, with most of us falling somewhere in the middle, that it seems to me it would be difficult to draw conclusions like “being extroverted leads to longevity”. However, if there are journal articles published that speak to the contrary, I would be very interested in reading them. Thanks for the article!

    Rachel R. wrote on May 15th, 2013
    • I wrote this before realizing many people had already commented with similar qualms about how this topic was covered:)

      Rachel R. wrote on May 15th, 2013
  9. Breath properly. Air is the number one food.

    Txomin wrote on May 15th, 2013
  10. Regarding social networks, my friends and I are participate in what we call First Saturday. Basically, the first Saturday of each month we plan an event. We rotate through each friend (or couple) every month who plans said event. We have had dinner (home or out), bowling, hiking, attended a local festival, etc. The bonding experience is amazing and we normally try things we don’t normally do.

    James wrote on May 15th, 2013
  11. Just:
    ‘do not go gentle into that good night…
    rage, rage against the dying of the light’…
    it makes you feel better, and that is what it is all about

    Chris wrote on May 15th, 2013
  12. I would add that one needs to have a confidence that he or she is a good person… my grandma, very confident (she was always right, never remorseful), took good care of herself, had a large social network… died at 98.

    My personal all time favourite for a good laughter is reading Jerome K Jerome, especially “Advantages of cheese as a travelling companion” and the stories about uncle Poger.

    IMHO, those can be citations of the week!

    “When you’re worked up about something, stop and ask yourself what exactly is bothering you so much. Get specific when you answer. You might just find there’s nothing there.”

    “He who laughs most, laughs last, in other words.”

    LOL, kudos to Mark Sisson!

    Aelita wrote on May 15th, 2013
  13. Hakuna matata

    N-FETT wrote on May 15th, 2013
  14. From personal experience, I think introverts look for different traits in friends than extroverts. I find so many people to be very self absorbed and I end up being treated as an ear and the friendship is very one sided. I find that extroverted people don’t tend to look this deep, and therefore find friend making much easier.

    Tracy wrote on May 16th, 2013
  15. You forgot one Mark,


    Oliver wrote on May 16th, 2013
  16. Highly recommend for a good laugh a old British series Mind your language! Cultural hub kind of laugh! Check it on youtube few minutes an you will get hooked right on! Enjoy!

    Ionela wrote on May 16th, 2013
  17. My 97 year old Nana just passed on a few months ago. Her secret? She went for a walk every day. Even when, at 97, that walk only lasted for a few hundred feet. :)

    Stacy wrote on May 16th, 2013
  18. I kept thinking as I read the list, that faith would contribute significantly to cultivating several of the characteristics. I am not necessarily talking about religion, but it could be. A faith in a “higher power” that is caring and loving, (whatever name you call it by), seems like it could positively affect some of these characteristics.

    Research Monkey wrote on May 16th, 2013
  19. When I was around four my father took me to a drug store and three of his friends were sitting at the counter and my Dad said, “Janie, tell them what you want to be when you grow up”. And I replied, Marilyn Monroe! Of course they all laughed! How could I explain to them that the picture of her trying to push her white dress down laughing was the epitome of happiness….carefree, joy! And I wanted that and found it through being what society has label introvert. I label it as a person who likes themselves, realizes friends are high maintenance( and the fewer the better), and doesn’t have to be the center of the party. Saying that, I try to find the humor in everything….the good, the bad and the ugly!

    jdcap wrote on May 16th, 2013
  20. All these traits formed the backbone of social doctrine of “Brave New World.” Huxley’s view of a world without heartbreak, aging, disease, and family resulted in a world of twaddle, din, and platitudes, accomplished by “conditioning” of human from embryo to grave. No art, no drama, no dissent. It was a cult of happiness. Truth was old fashioned, pleasure the ideal. Contrarily, those people died at around age 60, quite happily, due to the the drug Soma and a whole lot of bio-engineering. They didn’t mind.
    So it may be that isolation, heartbreak and conflict stimulate people to resolve their problems. They often don’t succeed. Several here have noted that mnay people depend on misery for company, and won’t even consider another way of life. But ometimes they do transcend, and I think that’s freedom.
    Another thing to consider is that longevity is a preferred ideal, and assume that we all value it. But why? Is it really so much better to live to 105 than to 65? My friends who died young, I don’t feel that they were “cut off in their prime,” or that their lives were incomplete. They lived as long as they could, god rest them.
    All honor to introverts!

    Frieda Gough wrote on May 16th, 2013
  21. my Scottish Grandmother (who lived to be 97)had a great reply when we asked her the secret of her longevity – she said “I didnae fancy the alternative”…..
    Attitude counts!

    cavemama wrote on May 16th, 2013
  22. As to Mark’s comment about using social networks to set up “real life” get togethers: People in years (way) past spent HOURS writing letters to friends and far flung family members by hand.I doubt that prompted so much, “they should spend their time having “real” relationships”. People understood that this was just a way to communicate with people far away. Even when spouses write on each others’ FB walls from the next room…that can be like the love note left on the counter (though that’s too public for my taste). Sure, FB can be used in stupid ways (think- kids passing notes in class). The same can be said of many things people wrote on paper in the past. And commenting on blogs? Just a new version of the letter to the editor. It’s all just communication and humans need to do that. There’s no need to qualify or temper mentions of social media imo.

    Danielle Thalman wrote on May 17th, 2013
  23. Actually, the bit about optimism and worry are not necessarily true (although I agree with you about it being better to let go of stress and worry). According to this 80 yr study, it is more nuanced than that. In this study, they found that optimists tend to overestimate their health and not notice things, and pessimists and worriers tend to underestimate their health and notice things that need attention earlier.

    Their findings in each of these areas was that none of the assumptions and myths are as straightforward as we think: married people who remain married to one spouse live longer than those who marry, divorce, and remarry… so a blanket “married people live longer” statement is not fully accurate, for example. So it is not saying to disregard these qualities, just that it is more complex than previously thought.

    Shannon wrote on May 17th, 2013
  24. Hey Mark-what about compassion?
    Seems a foundation principle to all of the foregoing.

    emmett flavin wrote on May 17th, 2013
  25. I’m weird. I need equal amounts of socialisation and alone time to be happy. Though, I guess it means i’m always comfortable in any situation :)

    ebrady98 wrote on May 18th, 2013
  26. If something really stressful is going on, I ask myself (or others to whom the stress may be occurring)…”How does this look in the light of eternity?”. Courtesy St. Aloysius Gonzaga

    Margaret wrote on May 19th, 2013
  27. The biggest killer in the world today is the Talmudic banking system.

    Chris wrote on May 22nd, 2013
  28. Chris
    Shut the F**** up about this stuff.
    Do you want a bullet in your brain and to permit people to characterise Paleo as Anti semitic.
    Buddy – there are self imposed limits to free speech.

    Freddy wrote on May 23rd, 2013
  29. I agree with these recommendations. Following a healthy diet and regular exercise won’t guarantee a long life but it will dramatically increase your chances of living a full and meaningful life up until your last breath. This is my blog post on the topic:

    William L. Wilson, M.D. wrote on May 26th, 2013

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