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Childhood and Longevity

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

What childhood experiences are linked to living longer? Past research has linked serious adverse childhood experiences to higher mortality rates, but there has been little research on the effects of more common stressors in childhood and their impact on longevity. A new study in the journal Psychology and Aging looked at mortality risk and improved longevity of men according to socioeconomic status, psychosocial stressors, and the presence of close relationships. The study, conducted at Boston University School of Medicine, followed over 1,000 men starting in 1961 and assessed their mortality and longevity outcomes in the years 1985-1991 and again in 2016. They found that men who experienced more childhood stressors tended to experience more stressors as adults and had reduced lifespans. In general, families with higher socioeconomic status tended to be more optimistic, had greater life satisfaction in midlife and lived longer. When children experience an increased number of stressful events, it expands the chances of more midlife stressors and shortened longevity. The stressors studied included childhood physical abuse and domestic violence, but also included parental death, frequent moves, and harsh discipline. Those who identified with several stressful childhood experiences were more likely to be affected long-term.

Childhood experiences have shaped all of our lives, positively or negatively. Some adverse experiences include abuse, a significant loss/death, or significant conflict in our household. Maybe we grew up with conditional love, high expectations, or a lack of emotional support and encouragement. Our experiences impact our personality development, emotional maturity, and behavioral choices. We often had no control over our experiences as children, but as adults we can choose the way we cope with negative life experiences. It's fascinating the way two people can grow up in the same family which may have included significant stressful events, yet one person adapts positively while the other is strongly affected in a negative way. Of course there are many variables that contribute to our development, healthy choices, and longevity. Sometimes we have some control over these variables, other times not. What do we do with the variables we can control?

Sometimes people hang onto unresolved conflicts from their past and choose to never let go of the pain. Forgiveness is a choice that everyone can make and letting go of past hurt is good for our health and longevity. And of course staying physically and mentally active generally enables us to live longer and better. Belonging to a community whether it be through an organization, church, fitness program, or neighborhood makes a difference in our well-being. Unfortunately, too many people struggle with loneliness and have either limited options or a lack of motivation to be connected. Social connections and friendships can positively impact our physical and emotional health. Having a faith and belief that there is a greater power than us can also give us hope and comfort. Finding purpose and meaning in life can create greater levels of fulfillment. Lastly, discern what can be controlled and what cannot and take action on the things you can change. Remember change starts with us.

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