As a gerontologist studying the aging process, people often ask me, “What’s the secret?”

While some of the most exciting research in this field focuses on this area, current studies indicate there’s not just one thing, but rather a number of things that contribute to not only living long, but perhaps more importantly, living well. Most of us really don’t care how long we live, like to a specific age per se, but instead it’s how do we maintain a healthy, happy, quality of life as long as possible, that seems to matter most.

There’s certainly an abundance of medical and scientific aspects that contribute to the outcome, but it seems it’s the real life stories of the people themselves, and their lifestyles which support the research, that is perhaps the most effective in helping us understand and ultimately incorporate the behaviors responsible for living long and living well.

When most long-lived people are asked what’s their “secret,” they’ll likely say they don’t know. However, when you start talking to them about their life, that’s often when the “secrets” are actually revealed. People are usually pleasantly surprised to discover that these “secrets” are actually quite attainable. In fact, it has been determined that lifestyle plays the dominant role in both how long and how well we live. Research today states that seventy percent (70%) of the aging process is based on lifestyle, while genetics accounts for only thirty percent (30%). Most people think it’s the opposite. But when we recognize it’s something within our control, that’s good news because we can play an active role in determining both how long and how well we live.

So what makes up our lifestyle? Certainly we know about the basics like eating healthy, getting daily exercise, and regular check ups at the doctor, but are we aware of all the other things that account for our lifestyle? For example, did you know that sixty to eighty percent of all health problems in this country are stress related? So managing stress is extremely important. Think about all the things we can do to keep our lives balanced and our stress in check, like maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family, being spiritually connected, having humor, optimism, meaning, passion, and purpose in our lives. Even pets play a beneficial role, as does volunteering, traveling, learning, and staying active.

When you think about it, this is life and living isn’t it? What’s AGE Got To Do With It? Yet what often happens as we age is we disengage, which is the worse thing for people of any age. When we start doing less and focus more on what we can’t do or don’t have, that’s what ultimately starts the downhill cycle.

Certainly life events such as health issues and/or personal loss become more common with age and can detour us from our life path temporarily. But recognizing that we can’t control everything that happens to us, only our response to it, can get us back on track with a “can do” spirit and an attitude of gratitude, which may be the real “secret” to living a healthy, happy, long life.