The Secret to Better Health [And It’s NOT the Gym]

Dear Reader,

According to Fidelity, the average couple retiring today at age 65 will need $280,000 to cover health care and medical costs in retirement.

“Health is wealth” really is true.

Without good health, you run the risk of losing a good chunk of your savings to pay for poor health — that you could’ve prevented.

But, what if there was something that could add 15 years to your life, increase your odds of beating cancer, stave off dementia, and help you recover from heart attacks?

And what if it wasn’t exercise or a change to your diet? (Though I do recommend constantly improving those things.)

There’s a surprising amount of research now that says relationships can do all this for you, and more.

Award-winning author and psychologist Susan Pinker, writes in her book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier

“…if you’re surrounded by a tightly connected circle of friends who regularly gather to eat and share gossip, you’ll not only have fun but you’re also likely to live an average of fifteen years longer than a loner.

One study of almost three thousand Americans found that people with close friendships are far less likely to die young, and in 2004 a Swedish epidemiologist discovered the lowest rate of dementia in people with extensive social networks.”

Interjecting here; she means the real kind of social network… not the virtual kind. She goes on to write:

“Fifty-year-old men with active friendships are less likely to have heart attacks than more solitary men, while people who have had a stroke are better protected from grave complications by a tight, supportive social network than they are by medication.”

Pinker also points out that relationships are three times as powerful as exercise for increasinging your lifespan.

So, if you have to choose one or the other, cancel your gym membership, invest the difference, and start spending more time with friends.

Consistent exercise is important for a whole host of reasons… I’ll write about this in a later issue. But it doesn’t always have to happen in a gym. You can take time to increase your heart rate with buddies on the golf course, on a bike ride, or on a hike. It will pay off in health benefits tenfold.

Another surprising way that relationships affect your life: the type of relationships you have with other people will likely affect your salary.

Strange, right? Let me explain.

According to George Vaillant, an American psychiatrist, Professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the book Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, specifically men with warm relationships, make more money…

He writes:

“The fifty-eight men with the best scores for warm relationships were three times more likely to be in Who’s Who, and their maximum income — between the ages of fifty-five and sixty, and in 2009 dollars — was an average of $243,000 a year. In contrast, the thirty-one men with the worst scores for relationships earned an average maximum salary of $ 102,000 a year.”

It  Pays to Make Friends

Another surprising longevity hack that has nothing to do with eating clean or exercising is simply having ambition and goals.

In The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, Dr. Howard Friedman writes:

“Those who were the most successful were the ones least likely to die at any given age. Ambition was not a problem and taking it easy was not healthy. In fact, those men who were carefree, undependable, and unambitious in childhood and very unsuccessful in their careers had a whopping increase in their mortality risk.”

Too Laid Back and Carefree Will Actually Kill You

Apparently, in these studies of men specifically, being too laid back and carefree will actually kill you.

Dr. Friedman also suggests that living out your dreams does not matter that much when it comes to living longer:

“We did not find that precisely living out your dreams matters much for your health… It was not the happiest or the most relaxed older participants who lived the longest. It was those who were most engaged in pursuing their goals.”

The surprising thing about this one is you don’t have to achieve your goals to reap the benefits either. Simply striving toward any goal is enough to improve your health, says Friedman.

Lastly, You Family

The last longevity hack I’ll share with you is regarding family.

If you have kids and you want them to live a long and prosperous life (I know I do), one of the best predictors of their success is having mom and dad stay together. Dr. Friedman writes:

“The long-term health effects of parental divorce were often devastating — it was indeed a risky circumstance that changed the pathways of many of the young Terman participants. Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier on average than children from intact families. Parental divorce, not parental death, was the risk.”

Dr. George Vaillant also had similar findings:

“…a loving childhood is one of the best predictors of mid and late-life riches: We found that contentment in the late seventies was not even suggestively associated with parental social class or even the man’s own income. What it was significantly associated with was warmth of childhood environment, and it was very significantly associated with a man’s closeness to his father.”

While there are many ways to stay healthy, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that having strong relationships with friends and family is the best thing you can do for your health.

Think about it. Give an old friend a call.

Brian Rose

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Brian Rose

Brian Rose is an MIT graduate, with a degree in engineering. Upon finishing school, he immediately began working on Wall Street. An advanced technical trader, Brian was trading a book of $100 million at the age of 22. He spent years on Wall Street, working in New York, Chicago and London. He made millions, but...

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