They say if you want to have a long life, choose the right parents. But genetics accounts for only 30-40 percent of longevity - the rest is up to you.
Published in Health and Lifestyle in February 2015
Debbie, 35, has a high-level career at an international finance company. She's spent the last decade catching her zzzs on transatlantic overnighters. She answers her BlackBerry 24/7 and hasn't taken a day off in two years, unless you count the time she checked herself into emergency with a nasty bout of food poisoning.
She's lost touch with many of her friends from university - she's just too busy to maintain those social ties. She has a supportive, equally hard-working husband and has been married 14 years.
WHAT SHE'S DOING RIGHT
Being happily married ups Debbie's chances of living longer. Baby boomers in long-term stable relationships have a decreased risk of premature death during their mid-life years, according to a 2013 study by Duke Medical Center. The study found that never-marrieds were more than twice as likely to die early as their partnered peers.
BOOSTING HER ODDS
The prolonged cortisol spikes due to her frantic lifestyle may age Debbie before her time. Not only that, chronic stress is a killer. Debbie needs to put her career in perspective and find a way to create more balance.
"Stress is at the root of almost all chronic degenerative diseases," says Dr. Andrew Wister, professor of gerontology at Simon Fraser University, who suggests Debbie start making time for her old friends.
"Developing a strong social network early in life carries you forward as you age. You have to have those connections."
Friendship makes for great medicine: An Australian study of 1,477 people in their 70s found those with the most friends had a seven-year-longer lease on life.
Another way to battle stress is to carve out time for vacations, says Dr. B. Lynn Beattie, professor emerita of geriatric medicine at the University of British Columbia. Canadians collectively have 32 million unused vacation days, much to the detriment of their health.
Women who go on holidays lower their risk of heart attack by 5 percent, according to the Framingham Heart Study. "Debbie really needs to recharge her batteries," says Beattie. "And she needs to take a holiday from her BlackBerry, too."