Actually, it turns out that as we get older, our lifestyle is more important than our DNA in influencing the length and quality of our life. Yes, as Dr. Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, points out in her book, A Long Bright Future, “except in extreme cases — when an inherited illness causes family members to die before age 60 — ancestral longevity isn’t a very important predictor of individual longevity.”
In short, as you age, your lifestyle is more important than your DNA.
While this may be disappointing to people like me with good genes, I think it is a net positive for all of us. It means that we really can influence the trajectory of our lives though our life choices.
So what is lifestyle? What do good choices look like?
One approach is to focus on well-being.
Bill Novelli, a professor at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP – and moderator of The Future of Housing For Grown-Ups: A National and Local Perspective hosted at The Stories (read a summary of this event in Forbes), first introduced me to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index index. This self-reported index focused on five areas:
Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily
The index has been tracking well-being along these measures since 2008 and has data from over 2 million surveys. In its most recent survey, among the largest 190 metropolitan markets nationwide, Naples, FL ranked first and Charleston, West Virginia scored the lowest.
Well-being is of increasing interest. To an individual, as mentioned above, it can help influence the trajectory of your life. To companies, improved well-being can reduce employee health costs. To health systems and our government, higher well-being across a population can help manage health care costs as we move from fee for service to value based health care as part of the affordable care act.