There was a very interesting article in the Atlantic magazine last summer. It was about a study conducted by researchers at Harvard who followed 268 men over 72 years, to see what they could learn about what makes us happy. It's a long article but well worth the read when you have some time to spare. I thought I would share some of the points that I found especially interesting and that are also relevant to parents.
The team identified some factors that demonstrated a strong likelihood for people aging healthily and happily. These included education, stable marriage, some exercise and a healthy weight. They also discovered factors that did not affect a healthy, happy aging process and these were particularly interesting to me. Apparently, cholesterol levels at age 50 do not impact your health in old age. Regular exercise during your university years tends to result in better late-life mental health, than physical health. I'm pretty sure I didn't do any regular exercise during university!
These two points made me think how important it is as parents to instil good habits amongst chidren when it comes to healthy eating and exercise. The research described in this article suggests that what's done earlier on in their lives could have a significant impact on their quality of life in old age. It also made me think that my husband and I should work more on incorporating regular exercise into our daily lives!
Another prevailing point to emerge from the study was the importance of social relationships. Having good connections with family and friends can signifcantly help with "successful aging". The article highlighted the notable strength that good sibling relations can provide, "93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger".
One final point that I thought I would share from the article, was the mention of industriousness in childhood seeming to predict better adult mental health. Whether it be household chores, joining a school club or sports team, or having part-time jobs, this kind of activity influences us emotionally and mentally. I think we'd all probably agree that encouraging our children to help out at home, as well as to get involved in group activities has lots of benefits but this is one more to add to the list!
Presented like this, the results from this extensive research sound somewhat basic but it's fascinating that studying these men throughout major stages of their lives (university, World War II, career, marriage, divorce, having children and grandchildren and moving into old age) has shown that things we know to be important in our lives, really are. Healthy eating, regular exercise, having good relationships with family and friends and keeping active are not just better for the day-to-day but also for long term. As parents, we should think about this for ourselves and also for our children, helping them to do what they can for a healthy, happy life.