Longevity Research - Amava

Longevity Research

Don’t dwell on the latest anti-aging article that your cousin posted on Facebook. There is real research out there about things you can do to help you live longer. And you don’t need to fast all day, go in an isolation tank or take tons of supplements. 

Research shows that people who engage in meaningful activities and forge strong connections with other people live happier, healthier and longer lives. Below is a sample of the research we think is particularly relevant.

Note: If you are a researcher interested in posting your research or otherwise working with Amava please contact editor@amava.com.

Health Benefits of Engaging In Meaningful Activity


Civic Engagement as a Retirement Role for Aging Americans (2008)

Source: The Gerontologist

Iowa study finding that “engaged retirees” who volunteered or took a paid job tied to civic engagement were more educated, in better health, and more physically active than other retirees.


Satisfaction and Engagement in Retirement (2005)

Source: The Urban Institute (The Retirement Project–Perspectives of Productive Aging)

Study of retirees in the U.S. reinforces other studies that show that people who are engaged in certain activities (paid work, formal volunteering, informal volunteering) are more likely to be satisfied than those not engaged in these activities. The study also highlights the negative impact of caregiving on life satisfaction, when caregiving is the sole focus or when caregivers are providing care for more than one family member.


Life Course Trajectories of Later-Life Cognitive Functions: Does Social Engagement in Old Age Matter? (2017)

Source: International Journal of Environmental and Public Health

Study using 12 years of data finds that increases in social engagement over time were associated with higher degrees of cognitive health. In contrast, when older individuals experienced a reduced social network and became less engaged with neighbors in their community, they were more likely to have declining cognitive functioning.  Also the study found that volunteering is a protective factor in cognitive decline. Individuals who volunteered were, over time, more likely to belong to the least vulnerable (i.e. the healthiest) groups. In contrast, when older individuals stopped volunteering, they were more likely to experience declining health.


The Meaningful Activity Participation Assessment: A Measure of Engagement in Personally Valued Activities (2010)

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine (originally published in International Journal of Aging and Human Development)

Study of older Los Angeles residents which used several surveys, including the “Meaningful Activity Participation Assessment” (MAPA) survey, where people indicated their participation in and the degree of personal meaningfulness they felt while doing 28 different activities.  The study supports prior research linking activity such as volunteering or engagement in work with purpose in life. In addition, the study suggests that participating in activities having greater personal significance may have more influence upon well being and quality of life than participation in a greater number activities that are less personally significant.


A Reliability and Validity Study of the Meaningful Activity Participation Assessment (2007)

Source:  Researchgate.net

PhD dissertation undertaking an in-depth review of the research on meaningful activity and how it influences health and well-being as we age.  The paper addresses the development and validation of the Meaningful Activity Participation Assessment (MAPA), concluding that the MAPA survey is a reliable and valid measure of meaningful activity participation.


How Can We Not ‘Lose It’ if We Still Don’t Understand How to ‘Use It’? Unanswered Questions about the Influence of Activity Participation on Cognitive Performance in Older Age – A Mini-Review (2009)

Source: karger.com (Originally published in Gerontology)

Survey of research regarding the “use it or lose it” hypothesis of cognitive aging-which posits that engagement in physical, social, and intellectual activities in older adulthood prevents the deterioration of cognitive abilities.  This is also called the “engagement hypothesis.” This paper describes the research in this area and also suggests areas where new research should be done to further understand the relationship between activity participation and cognition.


Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000)

Source: Robert D. Putnam

Civic engagement has fallen dramatically over the last generation.  More Americans are bowling today than ever before, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted. Virtually all leisure activities that involve doing something with someone else are declining.  Some reasons for this decline include changes in family structure, suburban sprawl, electronic entertainment, and generational change.


Feeling How Old I Am: Subjective Age Is Associated With Estimated Brain Age (2018)

Source:  Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

Korean study finding that people who had a younger “Subjective Age” (i.e. felt younger than their actual age) were more likely to score higher on a memory test, considered their health to be better and were less likely to report depressive symptoms. In addition, those who felt younger than their age showed structural characteristics of a younger brain on MRI tests.


Risks of Isolation


Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death (2015)

Source: Archives of Internal Medicine 

Study found that nearly one in three people over 60 years old reported loneliness. The study found that the association between loneliness and poor health outcomes, and even death, was strong. On a positive note, the authors believe that loneliness may be more successfully addressed than other health conditions and that doctors should do more to identify loneliness so they can better treat their patients.


Sightlines Project – Stanford Center on Longevity (ongoing)

Source: Stanford Center on Longevity

Stanford study measures several areas critical to how people age well.   Among the conclusions: Socially isolated people face health risks comparable to those of smokers.  And their mortality risk is two times greater than that of obese people. In addition, 55-64 year olds are less likely to be socially engaged than people of that age in previous generations.  Research consistently indicates that volunteering confers mental and physical benefits—but just over 1 in 4 of us volunteers.


Increased Mortality Risk in Older Adults with Persistently Low or Declining Feelings of Usefulness to Others (2009)

Source: Journal of Aging and Health

U.S. study shows that feeling useful to others as we age is critical.  Study shows that a persistently high level of feeling useful to others is associated with a significantly lower risk of mortality.


Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review (2010)

Source: PLOS Medicine

Data from 148 studies with a total of over 300,000 people followed for an average of 7.5 years, indicate that people with good social relationships have a 50% reduced risk of early death compared to those with poor social relationships, an effect similar to quitting smoking.


Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review (2015)

Source: Perspectives on Psychological Science

70 studies representing more than 3.4 million people primarily from North America but also from Europe, Asia and Australia, examined the role that social isolation, loneliness or living alone might have on mortality. Researchers found that all three had a significant and equal effect on the risk of premature death, one that was equal to or exceeded the effect of other well-accepted risk factors such as obesity.


Importance of Social Networks


Untethered: A Primer on Social Isolation (2019)

Source: readuntethered.com

David Hsu, a social scientist, discusses the types of social isolation and profiles various organizations that are working on the issue. Hsu explains the challenges organizations face in connecting people as fewer people belong to institutions like Elks or Rotary. He believes that the experimentation going on today will yield new institutions that may look quite different from those of prior generations.


Cognitive Benefits of Online Social Networking for Healthy Older Adults (2016)

Source: Journals of Gerontology

Study found that older adults that learned how to use a social networking website showed a significant increase in certain executive function and memory tasks, compared to no significant change in the control group.


The Limits of Friendship (2014)

Source: New Yorker

Anthropologist Dunbar believes that people can only have about 150 people in their social networks, their “Dunbar Number,” which is actually a layered series of numbers.  150 is the number of people we call casual friends, 50 is the number of close friends, 15 are in our inner circle, and your close support group is about five people. Researchers have found that despite the fact that some people may have many more “friends” online, social networking sites don’t really change these numbers.


Your Brain Limits You to Just Five BFFs (2016)

Source: Technologyreview.com

Study of billions of phone calls by 35 million people shows good evidence for the existence of the innermost and outermost layers of networks that Dunbar describes.


Benefits of Volunteering


Health and Wellbeing: Active Aging for Older Adults in Ireland Evidence from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (2017)

Source: Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging

Irish study discussing that the positive association between volunteer work and well-being is widely documented.  Volunteer work leads to better self-reported health, higher life satisfaction and decreased rates of depression. The lowest quality of life is found for people who never volunteer, regardless of age group.  This positive association is also seen for people who have greater social engagement.


Productivity & Engagement in an Aging America: The Role of Volunteerism (2015)

Source: Daedalus Journal

MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society study showing that volunteerism in later life is associated with many health benefits including reduced risk of hypertension, higher well-being, better cognition and lower mortality.


Can volunteering in later life reduce the risk of dementia? A 5-year longitudinal study among volunteering and non-volunteering retired seniors (2017)

Source: PLOS One (a peer reviewed open-access journal)

Swedish study finding that those who volunteer in later life have lower self-reported cognitive complaints and a lower risk for dementia, relative to those who do not volunteer, or only volunteer sporadically.


Is volunteering in later life impeded or stimulated by other activities? (2015)

Source: Sagepub.com (Originally published in Research on Aging)

Belgian study finding that older adults who volunteered are also active in other activities, especially in civic activities. However, people who helped others informally, such as taking care of children or a sick person, had a decreased propensity to volunteer.


Productive Engagement and Late Life Physical and Mental Health: Findings from a Nationally Representative Panel Study (2007)

Source: Researchgate.net (originally published in Research on Aging)

Among older adults, a higher degree of positive well-being is associated with having multiple roles instead of just one.  (e.g. caregiver, employee, volunteer, etc.).


Volunteers’ experiences of becoming arthritis self-management lay leaders: “It’s almost as if I’ve stopped aging and started to get younger!” (2001)

Source: Arthritis Care and Research Journal

UK program trained retired arthritis sufferers to teach an arthritis self-management course to others.  The lay leaders reported more confidence, happiness, and a changed outlook on life in general. Volunteers enjoyed helping others and being involved in a worthwhile activity, and they valued their newly acquired status as leaders.




Interventions to Reduce Ageism Against Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2019)

Source:  American Journal of Public Health (study done with the World Health Organization)

Researchers analyzed over 60 studies that looked at different interventions intended to combat ageism (which has been found to be highly prevalent across countries). These interventions included contact between generations, education, and a combination of both. The study found that mixing younger and older people in a variety of settings, combined with educating younger people about the aging process can reduce ageism.




Adult Caregiving Often Seen as Very Meaningful by Those Who Do It (2018) 

Source: Pew Research Center

An analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that about one-in-seven U.S. adults (15%) provide some kind of unpaid care to another adult. Interestingly, there are no significant differences by gender, income, education or race in terms of who provides this care. Also, caregiving is often seen as a very meaningful activity by those providing care.




More Older Americans are Working, and Working More, Than They Used To (2018)

Source: Pew Research Center

More Americans over age 65 are working than at any time since 2000, and they are spending more time on the job according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.  Almost 20% of this cohort, or nearly 9 million people, are working either full or part-time. With a few exceptions, they work in occupations in similar patterns as the U.S. workforce as a whole.

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