Longévité -

By Éric Simard, doctor in biology and researcher
Article taken from the Vitoli blog:

First, let's place the importance of personality in the context of longevity. Since 2013, we have been carrying out laboratory studies at Concordia University, with the support of the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, to discover new molecules to slow down the body's urge to age, slow down primary aging. This approach using natural molecules from plants will be added to healthy lifestyle habits in order to increase our chances of living longer and healthier. To do this, it will be important to pay attention to all facets of healthy lifestyle habits, including personality.

For the writing of my books ( Living Younger, Longer ), I grouped healthy lifestyle habits under 4 main factors, describing a 5th factor that I called a facilitating factor. This facilitating factor is being fundamentally positive and is more of a personality type than a simple quality. What if I told you that all centenarians have the same personality traits, regardless of their country of origin, regardless of their culture? This is necessarily an important aspect of healthy aging.

Personality: preventing yourself from becoming old

Henri Matisse, a great French artist who died in 1954, said that “you cannot help getting old, but you can stop yourself from becoming old.” He was of course referring to the state of mind. Among the factors associated with longevity, personality is one supported by a large number of studies involving centenarians from Japan, Sweden, the United States and Europe. These are fascinating studies. The majority of centenarians share common personality traits. It goes without saying that if these personality traits are common to a multitude of nationalities with completely different customs, they must facilitate or partly explain the longevity of these individuals.

But what is personality? What does it depend on? Personality refers to a stable state of cognitive, motivational, social, emotional and behavioral characteristics. In order to study the importance of personality in the context of aging, measurement tools were developed. These tools consider neuroticism/emotional stability, extroversion, openness to experiences, agreeableness and conscientiousness of people.

Neuroticism is characterized by a persistent tendency toward negative emotions; negative people. This personality trait is linked to poorer longevity. These individuals are inclined towards anxiety, anger, guilt and feeling depressed (depression).

As for extroverted individuals, they tend to derive great satisfaction from social interactions. They will therefore attach greater importance to social life and its quality. They are enthusiastic and talkative. They enjoy group activities and are inclined to interact socially rather than being alone. Quality social life is strongly correlated with longevity and healthy aging, including the retention of cognitive abilities.

Is it hereditary?

Our personality is of course influenced by the way we were raised, by family history, but also by certain genetic predispositions, the environment and socio-cultural factors. If we talk about predispositions, it is because genetic can influence the development of certain personalities. We would tend to think that genetics have little to do with it and that education and family environment play a primordial role. Some personality traits have a strong genetic dependence. Neuroticism (strongly negative tendency of an individual) would be strongly hereditary, with 43% genetic dependence. The same is true for conscientious and extroverted traits with levels of 43 and 47% genetic dependence. It should also be noted that for 57% of negative people, it is not a question of genetics, they have learned it.

Look for the positive

Studies have shown that centenarians are less stressed, easier to live with, and more efficient in general. They are very little negative (neuroticism) and much more extroverted and conscientious. Additionally, neuroticism has been shown to be a significant risk factor for depression and premature mortality. To be more precise, the direct physiological effects of having thoughts constantly directed towards negative emotions increase the risk of diseases. These physiological effects result in impacts on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, the production of stress hormones, the increase in blood pressure, the modification of metabolism, the increase in inflammation and the reduction of the functions of immune defense.

A more conscientious personality will have indirect impacts through lifestyle habits geared towards prevention, better nutrition, reduction of negative habits, etc. A recent study grouped the beneficial personality traits of centenarians into two categories:

  1. A positive life attitude (optimism, easy-going, giggling);
  2. An ability to express one's emotions (freely, without repressing them).

A study demonstrated a link between a positive attitude towards one's general health and the maintenance of cognitive abilities. In addition to helping you age well, a positive attitude towards life would help you maintain your cognitive abilities for longer. Another recent study, focusing on Hong Kong centenarians, reports four important considerations for them:

  • a positive relationship with others,
  • be joyful and experience positive events,
  • hope for the future and
  • a positive life attitude.

How important it is for centenarians

The population best known and most studied for its high proportion of centenarians is that of Okinawa, Japan. The island of Okinawa is part of the Okinawa archipelago, made up of a large number of islands in the south of Japan. These islands form a nature reserve sheltering unique animal species. There are 4 to 5 times more centenarians there and Okinawan descendants are 2.5 to 5 times more likely to live more than 90 years than the North American average.

Although Japan is the industrialized country with the highest life expectancy, the life expectancy of residents of Okinawa is still significantly higher by 4 to 5% than that of the rest of Japan. Okinawa is also at the origin of the largest centenarian tracking study in the world. The study began in 1976 and has followed more than 900 centenarians to date. This population maintains a unique culture, distinct from traditional Japanese culture in terms of food, art, religion and their eating habits. Families are larger and usually live under the same roof or nearby in the same village.

Genetic ?

Towards the end of the 1980s, certain genetic factors, linked to inflammation, had already been identified as representative of the Okinawa population. Likewise, the characterization of their exceptional state of health has revealed low rates of cardiovascular disease, higher bone density, lower cognitive loss as they age, etc. Okinawan centenarians are aging healthily. In 80% of cases, they remain without health problems before the age of 80. The majority of centenarians do not have any serious problems until age 100. Their health subsequently deteriorates between the ages of 100 and 105. Furthermore, cancer or cardiovascular disease are not the primary causes of death among Japanese centenarians: it is pneumonia.

However, it is difficult to link these good health characteristics to their particular genetics or lifestyle habits. Given that each family shares the same lifestyle habits and the same genetic background, we can imagine that the search for the cause of their longevity is laborious. It is clear, however, that heredity and lifestyle habits have something to do with it.


The Okinawa diet is now recognized for its very significant health benefits:

  • little meat,
  • lots of vegetables,
  • soy,
  • Fish,
  • no refined grain products (bleached flour),
  • little salt,
  • little saturated fat,
  • little dairy products.

Their diets are high in nutrients from fruits and vegetables, and low in calories. This diet would, among other things, have a significant anti-inflammatory impact. It is also important to mention that the Japanese tend to stop eating before they are completely satisfied: “Hara Hachi bu” (eating only to be 80% full). Because of this habit and their low-calorie diet, they have a low body weight index (low weight for height) and a health profile that resembles those obtained by calorie restriction.

However, we should not neglect the importance of other lifestyle habits either. They still work on vegetable production and sell them themselves. They ride bicycles, walk several kilometers a day and do yoga, karate or dance. Some have even claimed to still have an active sex life at age 90. Physical activity also keeps them connected to society. They place a lot of importance on taking care of each other. In general, they have a positive attitude towards life, exude a joie de vivre and strongly believe that everyone has a purpose (“ikari”). This reason for being is also a reason for living, a way of being optimistic about life and remaining positive. This attitude allows them to experience very little stress. Which brings back to their personality.

What about other populations of supercentenarians?

There are five known and well-documented regions (there are of course others), whose inhabitants have a greater life expectancy:

  • the Okinawa region,
  • the island of Sardinia in Italy,
  • a small community in California,
  • a mountain region in Costa Rica (the Nicoya Peninsula) and
  • the island of Ikaria in Greece.

These regions were categorized as “blue zones”, places where centenarians are still healthy. Valter Longo, eminent researcher in the field of aging, director of two cutting-edge research centers, described a 6th in his book “ The longevity diet », also located in Italy. These people are particularly healthy throughout their lives. For example, for the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, this is the population with the lowest average life (average age) mortality rate in the entire world. A 60-year-old there is four times more likely to live to age 90 than the average American.

Similar to Okinawa, all these communities share the same longevity factors: a diet based on a high consumption of fruits and vegetables, moderate physical activity integrated into their lifestyle, a very important social/family life, a spiritual side /meaning in life which gives them a reason to live and reduces their stress.

The most important factor

When people ask me what the most important factor is, I always say the quality of social life. However, to succeed in developing a high-quality social life, you must be a radiant, pleasant, positive and extroverted person. To get there, develop your personality!

Originally published by Éric Simard in Vitalité QC magazine :

References :

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