"An absorbing and invaluable read." ­The Wall Street Journal

The Longevity Project

Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study

Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin

Reading Group Guide to The Longevity Project

Questions and Discussion Starters for Readers

  1. Which findings presented in The Longevity Project about the paths to long life seem most relevant to you or people you love?
  2. Which myths addressed in this book (such as “Get married to live longer” or “Don’t work so hard!”) have you encountered as “advice” from magazines, friends, or other sources? Were you surprised to see these myths debunked? Why?
  3. Do you agree that a high quality, meaningful life will also often improve the odds of a healthy and long life?
  4. Were you conscientious and persistent as a child? Are you more so now, or less so? How do you see your level of conscientiousness as affecting your life path? (Chapter 2)
  5. How did you score on the Sociability quizzes (Chapter 3)? Would you characterize your own sociability as healthy or do you see patterns that reflect more dangerous pathways? How can you strengthen your social ties while minimizing the social risks discussed in this chapter (see also Chapter 12)?
  6. What are your top three worries? How do these relate to one another? Do you see your own worrying as problematic or healthy? Do you feel you are overly cheerful and optimistic, not cheerful enough, or just right? Why? Do you agree that happiness is not the secret to long life but results from a productive and meaningful life? (Chapter 4 and Chapter 5)
  7. What do you think of Douglas Kelley's shocking end and his ties to the Nazi, Hermann Goering? (Chapter 5)
  8. Do you know someone who is a Chicken Little “catastrophizer”? Does catastrophizing typify your own style of thinking? How has this cognitive style affected you, or someone you know? (Chapter 5)
  9. What do you remember about your first classroom, teacher, and friends? Was school an exciting experience, or something to be dreaded? Do you feel that the age at which you started influenced your perceptions of school? Did your early perceptions persist, or did your views of school change as you got older? If you have children, at what age did they start formal education (or when do you plan to start them)? What is the reasoning behind your choice? Has the book helped you re-think this issue? (Chapter 6)
  10. Classrooms differ—some are quite regimented while others offer much time for free-exploration. What are the pros and cons of such environments for children? Do the positives and negatives change depending on the child? How might The Longevity Project’s findings about the early start of formal schooling apply to particular classroom types (e.g., Montessori)? (Chapter 6)
  11. One of the chapters in The Longevity Project focuses on the long-term effects of parental divorce during one’s childhood. Divorce is much more common now than it was in the 1920s and 1930s. If this same study were to be re-done, starting in 2010, do you believe some of the same outcomes would be found with regard to mortality risk? Which things would be different and which things are universal across time? What do you think of the ways some of the Terman participants overcame the stress of their parents’ divorce? (Chapter 7)
  12. Were you an active child? Have your childhood physical activity patterns persisted, or have you made substantial changes over the course of your life? Many people make New Year’s (or birthday) resolutions to be more active. If you have ever done this, how well did you stick to those resolutions? What kinds of activities do you enjoy doing and how does this relate to your persistence? (Chapter 8)
  13. What is your perspective on the ideal amount of exercise? Do you count up your activity METs (Chapter 8) or prefer some other method of evaluating the adequacy of your activity level? What are the arguments for and against structured exercise? Which are most compelling to you? Do you know healthy older people who never set foot in a gym?
  14. Do you believe there is something fundamentally different about the “exerciser” and the “non-exerciser” in terms of personality? What about those who go out for “extreme sports” such as ultra-marathons (like Leslie)?
  15. After reading The Longevity Project’s findings about marriage and re-marriage, what advice would you give to a man or woman in their 30s who is feeling ambivalent about marriage? Is this different advice from what you would have given prior to reading? (Chapter 9)
  16. Thinking of your own history (steadily single, steadily married, divorced and possibly remarried), do the findings of The Longevity Project ring true? What factors influenced your choices and what might you have done differently, in hindsight? (Chapter 9)
  17. Were you surprised by the findings about husbands’ vs. wives’ happiness in marriage? About the importance of female orgasm? (Chapter 9)
  18. Stress isn’t all that it’s sometimes cracked up to be. As you think of your own career path, is it mostly stress with no reward, or is it both stressful and fulfilling? How did you score on the Job Passion and Accomplishment Quiz (Chapter 10)? What are your plans for increasing (or maintaining) your career satisfaction and success?
  19. The Longevity Project reports that the religiously-inclined live longer lives than those who are less so—but not always for the reasons one might think. As you think about your own life, do you see the social connections of your religious affiliation as being very important? When do rituals or communion with a higher power play an important role? If you are not religiously-inclined, what are the ways you can capture the positive, healthy correlates of religiosity without the religion itself? (Chapter 11)
  20. Do you consider yourself more “masculine” or “feminine,” compared to others of your same sex? Do you see risks or protective factors in your own lifestyle that are consistent with what The Longevity Project describes? Do you strive for strengths in both areas? If you have children, do you teach them both masculine and feminine skills? Is this the most healthy, flexible, and adaptive thing? Why or why not? (Chapter 12)
  21. One of the surprising findings from The Longevity Project is that personality characteristics many years before were able to predict who eventually was sent to battle in the Pacific during World War II. What are your thoughts about the elements that might be relevant here? Why might a less conscientious child eventually find himself assigned to a more dangerous military field than his more conscientious peer? (Chapter 13)
  22. The authors include lots of corroborating evidence from other studies to make their findings more compelling. Does this change the way you interpret the book’s findings? The authors repeatedly address the characteristics of those studied in The Longevity Project, arguing that many surprising findings are directly relevant in today’s world. Do you agree with their interpretation of the impact that these factors might have?
  23. The Longevity Project is full of self-assessments. Which of the “test yourself” quizzes was most useful in providing insight to you, and why? Did your results surprise you? How will that quiz (and chapter) change the way you approach your own life?
  24. After having read about this very long-term project, imagine that you could magically adjust elements of the study. What would you most want to know? What would you ask to include in a questionnaire? Is there anything you wish The Longevity Project’s authors would have done differently? What should they do now to follow up?
  25. Reviewers have called The Longevity Project important, illuminating, deeply fascinating, surprising, remarkable, and compelling. How has this book changed the way you think about paths to longevity? Is the idea that we don’t need long “to do” lists in order to live long, healthy lives comforting or alarming? What key points will you take away with you?
  26. SPECIAL FEATURE: What questions could be followed in the data archive? If you’d like, you can email suggestions to Dr. Leslie Martin at: Lmartin@Lasierra.edu.

Getting to Know the Authors of The Longevity Project

  1. Of all the myths you’ve “busted” in the course of this study, which surprised you the most?

    Howard: “You always hear advice to take it easy and not work so hard but this turned out to be wrong, wrong, wrong! Hard work was not a health problem. Contrary to what most people think, it was the happy-go-lucky, less successful folks who were at greatest risk of dying. For example, Norris Bradbury took on the challenge of the A-Bomb. Decades after entering the study as a child, Bradbury became an atomic physicist, playing a key role on the Manhattan Project and then becoming director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was tremendously successful in this highly stressful job. Successful and long-lived, Bradbury went from strength to strength.”

    Leslie: “I was surprised by many of our results, but perhaps most surprised by the way many single and divorced women were able to thrive. This is not the picture of single-hood that is typically portrayed by the media, and it was both startling and refreshing to see just how well most of these women did, living fulfilling happy and long lives.”

  2. How has this project changed your own lives?

    Howard: “I recognize more clearly that many events in life that we think are random are really set in motion by our prior choices and associations.”

    Leslie: “I have a better understanding now of how complex human health and behavior really are. Of course we all know this in the abstract, but it’s an entirely different thing to have such a vast ocean of data to sort through and to see the various interactions taking place. The Longevity Project has allowed us to explore people’s lives in a way that is seldom possible—in fact it’s never been done in quite this way, with so many people over so many years, before! And, even though the complexity of individual variables sometimes seems overwhelming, this project has also allowed me to take a step back and look at the basic patterns that emerge over time, which are elegant in their simplicity. That’s a really cool thing.”

  3. You say you are animal lovers, even though pets did not turn out to take the place of close friends and be health-promoting—can you tell us a bit more about the animals in your lives?

    Howard: “Nothing compares to Leslie’s love of animals.”

    Leslie: “I’ve had lots of animals in my life: horses, cows, and sheep as a kid; lizards and hedgehogs as an adult. Right now I have a whippet which is basically a smallish greyhound. He goes to work with me every day and has become something of a mascot in the La Sierra University Psychology Department. We run together, and snuggle up and read together—well, I read and he snuggles.”

  4. How do you get your exercise? Are you joggers?

    Howard: “I was glad to discover that forced, regimented exercise was not at all necessary to good health. I hike or walk several miles every day, choose stairs over elevators, and never sit in my chair for too long.”

    Leslie: “Actually I am a jogger, but I go at a slow pace. I like running outdoors—no treadmills for me, please! My dog runs with me, which is great, and I listen to music and think. I also love gymnastics, though I’m getting a little too old for that. I do some high jumping. And, I enjoy “adventure travel” so that usually involves running or hiking or some other strenuous thing.”

  5. Social connections emerge as very important throughout the book. How do you foster lots of good social connections for yourselves?

    Howard: “With a wife, two kids, many amazing students, and good friends, it’s not something I have to think about too often. And of course there’s my wonderful co-author and long-time collaborator.”

    Leslie: “I’m very fortunate in that I have a lot of wonderful friends. None of my family lives nearby but my friends are family to me. I make it a point to send emails, make phone calls, and get together with friends as much as I can without compromising my work. Sometimes it’s just for an hour; sometimes it’s for a trip that takes several weeks. I also volunteer and I’m in a book club and a track club.

    To see the authors discussing The Longevity Project click here. (3 minute video)

Buy from amazon.com