Longevity: Building Community

Read an excerpt from Dr. Robert Butler's new book The Longevity Prescription, discussing how investing in your community is key for a long and healthy life. Dr. Butler has been called "The Father of Geriatrics" and is the founder of the National Institute on Aging (a part of the NIH) and the International Longevity Center at Columbia University. Click here to purchase your copy.

Longevity: Building Community

Invest in Social Capital
One of the best strategies to a long and healthy life is connectivity. Numerous studies have led to wide-ranging conclusions about the importance of social relationships to individual good health. Having caring people around you--or even just making meaning from contact with them by phone, via the Internet, or other means--amounts to a special kind of health insurance. So, a surefire way to longevity is greater interactivity in a social sense. We humans are social creatures: interdependent, adaptable, and flexible. As a species, we have evolved in a world in which we must rely upon one another and, as individuals, the more we can contribute to bettering that world, the better it will be.

Two questions:

  1. Have you made a difference in people's lives?
  2. Can you think of a way of doing so?

If you are thinking about making a life change, and becoming more active in your community.  Here's some advice:

  • Find the time.This is twofold: First, you must do the homework; second, you need to find the time in life to invest.
  • Make a list, then make the calls or send the e-mails. Making contact is essential: Talk to people, explain your interest, offer your services. Use any contacts you have--friends, family, coworkers--to gather intelligence.
  • Build your own--and your community's--social capital. If your community isn't accessible, you can make it more so. Are there walking paths, gyms open to the public, bike paths, or mall-walking If there are none, you can help initiate them along with your friends or the larger community. But, finally, the motivation has to start with you as an individual.
  • Believe in yourself.Albert Bandura, a Stanford University psychologist, has described a behavioral phenomenon he calls self-efficacy. According to Bandura, the individual with a strong sense of efficacy will achieve a greater sense of well-being than the person resigned to failure. If you accept that something is beyond your control--say, "Oh, heavens, my memory is fading!"--then your fears may be realized, if only because you let it happen. A feeling of confidence, especially one reinforced by others around you, can deliver a sense of mastery throughout life. This power of self-efficacy has been studied by oncologists in cancer wards, in children, in the acquisition of computer skills by older people, and elsewhere. The message is consistent: In the face of challenges, a sense of self-efficacy makes accomplishments achievable and reduces the vulnerabilities to stress and depression.
  • Make a list.Read the papers, talk to friends, listen to the radio for public service advertisements. Ask at local schools, hospitals, churches, charities, Meals On Wheels, and civic organizations. Almost certainly, they all have jobs that need doing.
  • Do it.At some point you need to take the big step. Do not expect the appreciation to flood over you; you are doing this because it is worth doing, not for the thanks you get.
  • Give the gift you can give. Your legacy is yours to shape and now is the time to translate your desire to make a contribution into action.

What do you have to give? Maybe it is time. Perhaps it's expertise: the retired (or retiring) accountant, marketing person, carpenter, and teacher are always in demand. Whatever gift you have to give, you will find that giving grows on you. You may find opportunities for change, but even if you do not, understanding and accepting are in themselves healthful.

Reprinted from The Longevity Prescription by Dr. Robert Butler with Arrangement by Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright 2010.

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