Dear KOM-ers! We’re so happy to feature a new book giveaway!
Please enjoy this Q&A with Marta Zaraska about her book “Growing Young.”
There are 2 ways to enter to win your FREE signed hard copy:
- Leave a comment below with your email address (so we can contact you)
- Email us at KOMWriting@gmail.com with the Subject: Growing Young giveaway entry
2 winners will be randomly selected on 7/27 and announced on our website and social media. *
“GROWING YOUNG: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100” is a research-driven case for why optimism, kindness and strong social networks will keep us living longer than any fitness tracker or superfood. Discover magazine has just named it one of the “Great Science Books to Read Right Now.”
“Growing Young” was endorsed by Joshua Becker (“The More of Less”), Dan Buettner (“Blue Zones”), Emeran Mayer (“Mind-Gut Connection”) among others. Adam Grant wrote about “Growing Young” – “If you care about the length and quality of your life but can’t stomach yet another diet or workout routine, this book is for you.”
We are fixating on all the wrong things – miracle diets, miracle foods, miracle supplements, etc. We skip gluten and invest in exercise gadgets. We swallow vitamins. We obsess about BMI. While healthy nutrition and physical activity are indeed important for health, there are things we all too often sacrifice that have an outsize impact on our centenarian potential – friendships, purpose in life, empathy, kindness, volunteering. Science shows that these ‘soft’ health drivers are often more powerful than diet and exercise. Consider the numbers: studies show that building a strong support network of family and friends lowers mortality risk by about 45%. Exercise, on the other hand, can lower that risk by only 23 – 33%. Eating six servings of fruit and veggies per day can cut the danger of dying early by 26%, and following the Mediterranean diet by 21%; but for volunteering it’s 22 – 44%.
1. Are your relationships and your mind more important to your health and longevity than diet or exercise?
In their New Year’s resolutions over 80% of Americans say they want to change their diet or exercise regimen. As many as 45% buy organic foods and 70% drink low-fat milk. More than half take various dietary supplements, spending on average $56 a month. Yet hundreds of studies show that these things matter much less to our health than we tend to think (and some, such as many supplements, actually hurt our longevity potential). Just look at the numbers. While healthy diet and exercise routine can lower your mortality risk anywhere between 23 – 26%, building a strong support network of family and friends lowers mortality risk by about 45% and volunteering by 44%. That does not mean, of course, that we should just all start eating cookies and fast food and spend our lives sitting on couches. But some of us simply focus too much on diet and exercise and too little on kindness, friendship, community and optimism. What’s more, healthy eating and exercise don’t mean superfoods, supplements or fad diets at all. It’s enough to follow Michael Pollan’s famed statement: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I would add: “Be social, care for others, enjoy life.”
2. How much does loneliness cost public healthcare?
Loneliness is one of the worst things that can happen to your health. People who are lonely are almost twice as likely as more socially connected people to need healthcare services, so the costs are considerable. One British study put a price tag of loneliness at close to $1,000 per person per year. Considering that in the UK as many as 9 million people report loneliness, the costs to the health system could be upwards of $9 billion. No wonder then that in 2018 the British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a special “Minister for Loneliness.”
3. Why does your personality matter for longevity?
Some of our personality traits have a huge impact on our health and longevity. Take conscientiousness – that propensity to pay your bills right away, keep your desk tidy and show up on time for meetings. Conscientiousness can lower your mortality risk far more than the famed Mediterranean diet (44% versus about 24%) and conscientiousness measured in childhood can predict longevity even as far as seven decades into the future. Part of the explanation for why conscientious people live longer lies in the fact that they tend to abstain from fast food, exercise regularly and follow doctors’ advice. But even if you discount all of the above and many more health-related behaviors, the strong effects of conscientiousness on longevity still persist. Psychologists studying the topic believe direct biological mechanisms are at play, such as the functioning of the immune and nervous systems.
Neuroticism on the other hand – the tendency to be anxious and not very stable emotionally (think most characters played in movies by Woody Allen), can mean even 33% higher risk of mortality. In the Netherlands it has been calculated that the top most neurotic people cost the country over $1.3 billion per year per million inhabitants in health services, out-of-pocket costs and production losses.
4. Do volunteering and charity donations make you live longer?
They do! Volunteering reduces mortality by 22 to 44% – about as much as eating six or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. What’s more, volunteers may have 29% lower risk of high blood glucose, about 17% lower risk of high inflammation levels and spend 38% fewer nights in hospitals than people who shy away from involvement in charities. Even monetary donations work to boost our health – they can even make our muscles stronger. All this is caused by activation of our evolved care-giving system which involves reward-related brain areas such as the insula, as well as our stress-related systems including the amygdala (the brain’s fear center) and the stress hormone cortisol.
5. Do kind people live longer?
Even simple, everyday kindness can make a great difference for our health. While writing “Growing Young” I’ve done an eye-opening ‘experiment’ on myself with collaboration from scientists at King’s College, London. I did random acts of kindness on specific days while measuring levels of my stress hormone cortisol. On other days I lived as usual. The results were fascinating. No matter how stressful my day, on those that I performed acts of kindness, my cortisol response was much healthier than on days when I didn’t engage in kindness.
But it’s not only my tiny ‘experiment’ that shows how kindness impacts our health. Proper research points in the same direction. You can even see the effects of kindness in the blood. In one South California study participants who were assigned to conduct random acts of kindness had their leukocyte genes less tuned toward inflammation.
* By entering this contest, you give consent to Kind Over Matter to use your name for promotional purposes on our website and on all social media.