How To Live To 100

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How To Live To 100

Most longevity research focuses on food and fitness, but this week’s guest makes the case for deepening relationships, practicing kindness & staying optimistic if we want to live longer, happier, and healthier.

Marta Zaraska, a renowned science journalist & author of the book, Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism, and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100, sheds light on the fascinating research that suggests cuddles, laughs, and selfless acts, might be the most accurate predictors of our longevity.

Marta Zaraska

Marta Zaraska

Science Journalist

Marta Zaraska is a Canadian science journalist and author of the best-selling book, Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism, And Kindness Can Help You Live to 100.

Transcript

Maria Marlowe: [00:00:34] Welcome to the Happier and Healthier podcast. Today’s guest is Martha Zaraska, a Canadian science journalist and the author of Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100. When I first saw Marta’s book on Instagram and read the title, I knew right away that I wanted to have her on the show. If you guys have been listening for a while, you know that as much as I love food and fitness and these things are super important. I have become more and more interested in the mental side of things and our perspective, our happiness, our mindset. And so I’m really excited to have Marta on the show to share a little bit of the science and research behind why friendship, relationships, optimism and kindness can dramatically improve our health.

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Maria Marlowe: [00:02:16] Marta, thanks so much for being here.

Marta Zaraska: [00:02:17] Thank you so much for inviting me, Maria.

Maria Marlowe: [00:02:20] So typically when we think about health and longevity books, we’re thinking about nutrition and fitness. But your book is about optimism and kindness and friendship. So can you just give us a little bit of a back story? What inspired you to write Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live To 100?

Marta Zaraska: [00:02:43] So I’ve been a science journalist for a while now. I’ve been writing about nutrition and health for The Washington Post, for Scientific American, Discovery magazine. So this was something I was really working on in my professional life. So reading tons of studies and writing articles on how to eat healthy, how to keep our bodies young and at the same time, in my private life, I was very much interested in how to live healthy as well, especially since I became a parent eight years ago. I really wanted my daughter to be as healthy as possible. I think most parents have this kind of dream of making sure the children live the longest and the healthiest possible. So I went the usual ways, maybe a little bit overboard. I have to admit. I was pureeing all the organic best medical foods, the heritage tomatoes and organic broccoli and kale. And I was sprinkling chia seeds over my daughter’s foods, know whatever I could, I think turmeric and all this stuff just to make sure everything was perfect and that she’ll stay healthy.

Marta Zaraska: [00:03:48] And at the same time, at work, I started coming across more and more research. So it was actually pointing in a very different direction, especially one meta analysis of studies I read. Meta analysis, is this kind of golden standard of research where scientists put together all the research that was done before on this particular topic and come to a conclusion, what is it pointing towards? And this meta analysis shows that although diet and exercise are indeed very important, things like social integration, so whether you have friends or the quality of your marriage, whether you know your neighbors, for instance, if you’re connected to your community, matters far more for our health and longevity. So, for example, to show some numbers, the healthy, usual healthy stuff. So the diet and exercise, their impact on lowering our mortality risk is about 20 to 30 percent, which is a lot. But when you think about the social integration can lower your mortality risk by 65 percent. So we had 20, 30 and 65, which is actually even more than quitting smoking if you smoked a pack of cigarettes per day. So this is huge. So it’s really stopped me in my tracks and I was like, OK, am I doing the best I can to make sure that my family is healthy or I’m just following blindly the main trends? And so I started researching and after reading over 600 research papers and talking to thousands of scientists and writing Growing Young, I came to a conclusion that I wasn’t, I was putting too much effort into the American, all this kind of heritage, organic broccoli, whereas I was completely abandoning the soft drivers of health. So I was social integration, kindness, optimism, basically our mental habits and how the huge role they play in our health and longevity.

Maria Marlowe: [00:05:39] That’s incredible. I had never heard that statistic before and that really does put things in perspective, 20 percent versus what you say 60, 65 percent.

Marta Zaraska: [00:05:49] 65. This is all kind of paying you 65.

Maria Marlowe: [00:05:52] Yeah, that is insane. And it actually reminds me of my grandfather in law who is actually 93, and he does have very generally healthy diet and exercise. And he does yoga, he does meditation, but he also, he’s not very strict with it and he’s always telling me like if we’re eating out he’s like you don’t have to rearrange the menu, just order what you want. He’s ordering French toast, he’s drinking soda, he’s having dessert after every meal. And he’s in perfect health for a ninety three year old. And when I ask him, like, what’s his secret to health and happiness, he’ll say family. And he is, he’s really the patriarch of this whole family. And everyone, we go on vacation together every year, sometimes multiple times a year. Everyone’s very connected and calling. And family and community is such a huge part of his life. And I really do think that is what has helped him get to this place or he’s 93 and you can have a conversation with him about anything you could. He could probably out yoga you any day.

Maria Marlowe: [00:06:56] So it’s, it’s really interesting to just to hear a little bit of the science behind it. Maybe why don’t we unpack the three of these main topics. Let’s start first with relationships. So what should we know about that? What did you learn about relationships while you were researching your book?

Marta Zaraska: [00:07:14] I mean, so. The first thing I wanted to tackle here is that sometimes when I talk about these topics, people ask me, isn’t it some kind of new age-y stuff, you know, some new age-y, you know be happy, connect with other people. But the thing is, there is nothing new age-y about it. It’s pure science. And really, there are so many research papers on this and they have been done animal studies, studies on the level of epigenetics, genetics, cellular level studies, also epidemiological studies, all the different types of studies that have been started more or less in the 70s. The researchers have been really starting to research that and there are thousands of studies on that. So there is nothing new age-y. It’s really very biological. And it makes perfect sense because, you know, when you think about it, we are social animals rights. We are social apes, just like our cousins chimpanzees, we evolved to be in a tribe. We didn’t evolve to live in our little tiny apartments on our own. We didn’t. We evolved to live in a tribe. And our bodies function the best when we are surrounded by others. And this is how we feel safe, basically. In a way, it always boils down to feeling safe.

Marta Zaraska: [00:07:14] So you have this difference stress axis in your body. So for example, one of them is the so-called HP axis. And this is something that’s often called the fight or flight response. So when you stressed there is a cascade of hormones that starts to freeze your brain, activates hypothalamus in your brain and signals down to your pituitary glands. And you have this cocktail of hormones, including cortisol, the famous stress hormone that gets released. Then this kind of systems, as well as other, adrenaline, for example, they function the best when we are with other people, when we are feeling safe and connected, whereas when we are feeling alone or rejected by other people, ostracised, this is starting to malfunction.

Marta Zaraska: [00:09:12] And and with all the downstream health effects for cardiovascular health, for diabetes, even for cancer, whether your cancer will progress or not, it all depends on that. There is also we have also so called social hormones. So does this oxytocin, serotonin, vasopressin, endorphins. They are all hormones that have evolved to connect the way we function socially with how our body functions. For example, you might have heard of oxytocin, so this famous love hormone. And on the one hand, it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. For example, we are with friends or family and we feel connected. So we feel the love you can say. But on the other hand, it has very strictly biological effects on our body. So, for example, oxytocin has some anti inflammatory effects. It has, it promotes bone growth, potentially preventing osteoporosis. It’s a very, very biological effect. The same for serotonin, for example. It impacts our liver health directly. Endorphins are a natural painkillers.

Marta Zaraska: [00:10:13] So these things on one hand, acts to connect with other people, regulate your feelings in that way. But other are strictly biological effects on the body. And this is how it’s all interconnected. There is also your gut microbiota that also connects your feelings with your health and how you’re socially connected with other people. For example, we exchange microbes of other people around you so your family, your friends. This is so interconnected and very, very biological. So sorry for the digression here, but I had I had to put it straight.

Marta Zaraska: [00:10:43] So yes, we’ve mentioned, you know, family, friends. So the most important thing we do wanted to find what’s the number one thing you could be doing for your health is committed happy romantic relationship. In general research it means marriage. But of course, it doesn’t have to be marriage per say, but it has to be committed. So if you are in a relationship, even a long time, but you don’t know where it’s going. That’s not what we are talking about. It has to be really, really committed. You know, you’re in for it for good. You are there for each other and in general for women it has to be a happy relationship. Bizarrely for men, any marriage or a committed relationship is good for their health, even if it’s not very happy. Supposedly it’s still a bit of a mystery. But researchers are suggesting that it’s probably because women organize social lives of families. So when men are married, even though the marriage may not be best, but the women are providing this kind of contact with family, making sure everybody hangs out together, organizing social life, inviting friends so men profit from this part of marriage. Maybe that’s from the relationship itself, but from the social aspect of it.So, yes, but for us women, happiness in the relationship is very important. So marriage is number one.

Marta Zaraska: [00:11:58] Number two would be family and friends. They can be replaced. So, for example, if you don’t have siblings, the research shows that having friends is perfect replacement. So it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Of course, if you have, the more the better. But in general, either friends, family. Just having people close to you in whom, you know, they are there for you, if you feel sick, somebody will bring you soup kind of thing and this is something also extremely important. The third layer is the wider community. So knowing your neighbors, participating in local events, being connected in general, having colleagues at work that you chat over coffee or things like that, just being connected, basically.

Maria Marlowe: [00:12:37] Yeah, but that’s so interesting about the relationship and the difference between men and women. I’m curious, did you come across at any point, any whether it’s data or anecdotes or stories of how a relationship had improved some sort of outcome or just benefited someone in some way?

Marta Zaraska: [00:12:55] I mean, I don’t have perfect stories of individual people, but definitely there is just so much research on this showing that people who are married have better cardiovascular health. They have lower risk of diabetes, they have lower risk of cancer. They respond better to flu vaccination. So now we are all told to vaccinate for flu. If you’re a happily healthy, romantic relationship, you have a better chance of responding, of your immune system, responding better to the vaccine and protecting you. So there are so many different effects in here. So, yeah. So it’s really fascinating when you think about people, when we are in a couple, we basically synchronize our bodies on extremely physiological level. So from things like our heart rates, for example, our blood pressure, our electrical skin conductors, really weird things that we synchronize with our romantic partners. So it’s really very biological and and it’s very important for our health.

Maria Marlowe: [00:13:53] And we synchronize even with other people that we’re with. Like I read, that women, for example, when women are together quite often their cycles actually sync.

Marta Zaraska: [00:14:05] Yea we do. It’s fascinating. And the same with the gut microbiota I’ve mentioned before. When you touch other people, for example, even when you do contact sports, the teams exchange their skin, bacteria, right? And so it’s absolutely fascinating. And there is also some research showing that, for now its research on mice, but is probably applies to humans too. So  the more diverse your relationships, the more diverse your gut microbes. And it’s something that’s actually good for your health. So having a diverse network of friends will be good for your health. It’s absolutely fascinating how it’s all interconnected and how biological we are. You know, we kind of think now we are over Zoom that we can just kind of go into the cloud and that’s perfectly fine. But there is so much research showing that we need the actual physical side of it. Even the touch, right? When you touch other people, we hold hands or just hug, it releases the oxytocin, the love hormone. And without that, it’s not the same.

Maria Marlowe: [00:15:00] Oh definitely, you know, the Internet and Zoom and all of this modern stuff. It’s just, it’s a great thing now, especially during this pandemic, we can stay connected, but it’s just not the same as being in person. So I’m curious for you, after you have done all the research on this, did you change anything in your life and your relationships, anything that you started doing that you weren’t doing before?

Marta Zaraska: [00:15:28] I mean, certainly. I’m less obsessive about my food. So I don’t spend a gazillion dollars anymore in the health food stores as I used to before. We still eat very healthy in my family, but I will not be obsessing about exactly organic Kale or chia seeds. I will just make some carrot and cabbage and it’s perfectly fine as long as you know… There is one cold I release from Michael Pollan. He said, just eat foods, mostly plants, not too much. And it’s kind of simple. And the truth is that healthy eating is kind of simple. Just eat your vegetables and fruits, not too much junk food and you’ll be fine.

Marta Zaraska: [00:16:04] But I put much more effort into our social lives. So I run. I run almost every day. And before the coronavirus crisis, I was planning to run another health marathon. But then I realized that if I were to prepare for it, I would have to spend a lot of time running by myself. And knowing the research already went into growing young, I realized that even from my health perspective, it’s better for me not to run the health marathon, but spend more time sitting on the couch with my husband and having just chats with him and still do my regular five mile runs, four times a week. That’s perfectly enough. Very good for my health. But the health marathon would actually could be worse for my health because I would lose the connection because of all the time. If you have time for everything is perfect, but I don’t. So I have to make choices.

Marta Zaraska: [00:16:57] And before if I made such a decision, I would feel guilty about it. Like if I was sitting on the couch with a glass of wine, talking to my husband, I’ll be like okay, it’s very nice, but I’m kind of not running and not exercising. I should be doing something else. But now I know that actually even from my health it’s probably better. And another thing is that I realize about health because there’s something very powerful connection between conscientiousness, so personality traits, conscientiousness and health.  Keeping your desk tidy, paying your bills on time, showing to meetings on time. Actually, one researcher I talked with, he said that if conscientiousness could be a pill, it would be the most powerful drug on the planet. It’s so important for our health. So before I said I’m a mom and I have an eight year old daughter and I always make sure she eats vegetables and stuff. But now I also realize that the messiness in her room, which is a permanent feature, is actually a health problem as well. And not only because of the Legos, you can step on, but actually because conscientiousness, so kind of keeping your room tidy is so important for health. And the research shows that the earlier you start even with children, it actually has effects later in your life. So now I’m really trying to chase her and make sure that she’s more conscientiousness and cleans the room because it’s important for her health as well, just as much as eating carrots or apples and so on and so on.

Maria Marlowe: [00:18:22] So interesting. All these things that I’m going to use that. Next time my husband asked me to go for a run and I don’t feel like it, I’m going to be like, no, I’ll just sit on the couch. It’s better. So what about optimism?Optimism, that sort of the second key feature of the book? I know. I feel sometimes obviously we all want to be optimistic and think positively, but I feel like there’s always some pushback on that. Like sometimes people are like, oh, you can’t just think yourself happier or you can’t just, positive thoughts, it doesn’t really change things. So I’d love to hear your take on that. And why is optimism so important? What can it do for us?

Marta Zaraska: [00:19:00] I mean, there are two things here. So definitely optimism is extremely important for health. So it can add you anywhere from 4 to 10 years of life. So it’s huge. There was, for example, one really fascinating research done on nuns, Catholic nuns, that showed that those who in their diaries that were using the more optimistic, upbeat language, they lived 10 years longer than those nuns who were using more gloomy language. And nuns are amazing to study because they all wake up at the same hour. They eat the same stuff. They do exactly the same stuff over the days. So if some of them live 10 years longer, this is a huge difference. Right. And it was the same studies were done also on famous psychologists, on other groups of people as well, showing exactly that from 4 to 10 years you can get from being optimistic. And yes, there’s also lots of research right now showing that you can become more optimistic by just basically changing your thought patterns. On the other hand, maybe the criticism you hear, are kind of people kind of reacting the way you said to you telling them that they should be more optimistic is that optimism is just part of it. So there is also, maybe they are confusing optimism with kind of hedonic happiness or just kind of enjoying this kind of hedonic pleasures. And the truth is, that’s kind of pushing to be happy. This is not what we are talking about.

Marta Zaraska: [00:20:20] So optimism is kind of like a personality trait, something similar to a personality trait. That’s just basically how you see the world, how you react to what’s happening to you. But it doesn’t mean you are chasing happiness, like I have to be happy today. It’s not about that. It’s just kind of how you see what’s happening to you. Right. And there is a second side to it. So it’s something called eudaimonic happiness. So this kind of purpose in life and being happy not because of the hedonic pleasure, it’s not because, you know, I had the bubble, or just made me so happy having a party or something like this that’s having meaning and purpose and this kind of happiness derived from having some meaningful goals and connections, this really impacts your health as well and is extremely important even on a cellular level. Studies show that it changes your gene expression, even genes related to your immune system, which is kind of important these days for our immune systems. So it’s very, very important.

Marta Zaraska: [00:21:18] So on one hand, your thought patterns, on the other hand, having meaning and purpose and this kind of some kind of important goals that you feel you are working towards, which are extremely important for your longevity.

Maria Marlowe: [00:21:32] And with optimism, it’s definitely it’s that, you know, even when things are going bad, you choose to look on the brighter side of things, because I do feel it is easier for us and even society wise with all the news that we’re constantly hearing. It’s always the bad news. It’s always the worst that’s going on in the world. And there’s a lot of fear mongering and just drama, right. And so I feel like we get trained to kind of look at the negative. And I even, there’s people in my life, it’s like, oh, it’s raining. It’s like such a gloomy day. I don’t want to do anything. And it’s like you don’t want to let these outside forces, something like the weather, which you have zero control over, dictate your feelings because you’re never going to really be happy, right, there’s always going to be something kind of blocking it, so it’s just a matter and I think it takes practice. I’m curious for you, were you always optimistic? Were you optimistic before you wrote the book and did the research or was it after like how did you become an optimistic person?

Marta Zaraska: [00:22:32] I mean, part of is genetic, that’s for sure. I think I definitely was born optimistic, but genes are just part of the story. So just like with a lot of things about our bodies and minds, we can still work on it. So there are some great books out there, how to become more optimistic. And this is basically, again, about training your thought patterns. So I read those books, but this was already a while ago before I wrote growing young. So and these are really great ways to just train yourself. Exactly. To just catch yourself. You look out the window and you say to yourself at this point, is it really horrible what educate yourself at this point. Is it really horrible and maybe smells nice because it’s been raining and look how nice the earth smells, right? So there is really a lot about the perspective and some. But also, you know, you mentioned the news and definitely reading a lot of news is not helping anybody become more optimistic. In journalism. We have a saying in journalism. If it bleeds, it leads. So, you know, there is a reason for that. So it’s definitely you know, you can read those news, that’s definitely a great first step to becoming more optimistic.

Maria Marlowe: [00:23:40] Yeah. And the second part that you mentioned having the purpose, I know in Japan they have actually a word for this. I believe it’s ikigai, where you have this purpose in life. It’s the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. And I think we’ve all probably experienced this in our lives. It’s like if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t have your direction or maybe you haven’t figured out your career or whatever it is, you are less motivated. But once you have that purpose, it’s like you jump out of bed in the morning, you want to go to work, you want to do whatever you have to do. And it just it energizes you in a way that no matcha green tea or anything else, any superfood just can’t do it.

Marta Zaraska: [00:24:22] When I was writing Growing Young, I actually went to research the book in Japan because Japan is the longest lived nation right now. And so when we hear about Japan these days, it’s about Okinawa diets. For example, so what people in Okinawa are eating. What kind of vegetables are eating, how much salt they are eating? Are they eating meat. Are they eating fish and some. First of all Okinawa is no longer the longevity center of Japan. Now it’s the Nagano Prefecture. So maybe soon you’ll see books like the Nagano diets. These are the mountainous areas of Japan. And some and I went there and I talk to researchers there and some centenarians as well. And some, yes, diet is part of it. But when you talk with people in Japan, actually one of the very first things they mention when they talk about health is exactly this ikigai, which is something well, in the West that doesn’t really appear that much in conversations with longevity researchers.

Marta Zaraska: [00:25:17] And they see this purpose in life, the ikigai has such an important part of health that even the Health Ministry of Japan has officially put it into their health promotion strategy. So they really, really know how important that is. And in this particular prefecture, in Nagano, which where people live the longest these days in Japan, they have particularly a lot of this purpose in life when they measure it in studies. And so for them, what it means is this exactly the reason for living? Supposedly, it’s difficult to translate exactly the meaning of it, but it is how Western research is translated. And when I talk to people in Japan, they usually mention things like caring for my family, for example, for my grandchildren or beautifying my community.

Marta Zaraska: [00:25:58] So, for example, gardening my from the garden so this tree looks beautiful for everybody, things like that. Right? So it doesn’t have to be something enormous. Of course you can be. Your ikigai can be trying to stop the climate change. That’s great. But it doesn’t have to be either because it can be something smaller. You know, helping my neighbors, helping my children. Your work as well. Right. In Japan, actually, another thing, visit that they have silver haired employment agencies and employment agencies for retired people, or however, bizarrely, this sounds so when the Japanese retire from the regular careers, they can go to this specialized employment agency where they get usually part time jobs that are very easy, that don’t require a lot of mind, power or concentration, anything like this. And they get them not for the money, but for exactly for Ikigai, for being connected to the community, for doing something, for giving something back, for having a purpose.

Marta Zaraska: [00:26:56] So they will be, for example, in public spaces or helping them cross on the way to school jobs like that. And a lot of people do that. Again, Nagano Prefecture, there is a particularly high number of people who do this kind of silver hair jobs. And I’m absolutely not saying that, there are also cultural differences that we in the West should keep working until we drop. But definitely finding something, can be volunteering, can be helping your neighbors or your job can be that there are so many other ways that you can feel that your life has some kind of meaning and purpose. And this is really, really important for health.

Maria Marlowe: [00:27:34] It’s so interesting. I love how you explained it, because I feel like when I’ve traditionally seen it in, let’s say, online media outlets talking about it, it’s very tightly or they’re talking about it really solely in terms of your work, like your job, your career. They never mention the like taking care of your grandkids or taking care of the garden so that your community looks nice. And I think I’m so glad that you said that, because for someone who’s not working right. And I think that sometimes our world is so tied to our career or how much money we’re making, that if you’re not making the top salary or you don’t have the top spot on the corporate ladder, you feel less then in some way. But I love that ikigai is not just your career, it’s just your purpose in life and how you fit into that community.

Marta Zaraska: [00:28:24] I would say this has actually absolutely nothing to do with the corporate ladder. You know, you can be at the very top of the corporate ladder and making the most money and have no ikigai because you money is not ikigai. So making more money is not that. Being successful in your job is also not that. It is always about giving something back. So somebody really at the bottom of the corporate ladder can have much more meaning than somebody at the very top if they believe their jobs are important.

Marta Zaraska: [00:28:46] So there was this absolutely fascinating study about hospitals cleaning staff, whereas when the researchers kind of manipulated the way people experience their jobs, they could see that if people saw their job just as the cleaning job as a cleaner, they really were kind of feeling unmotivated and not really very uplifted by it. But if they saw their job in the kind of greater perspective as having meaning, it changed everything. So, for example, other cleaners in the hospital saw their job as extremely vital to keeping the hospital working and saving lives because they didn’t clean properly. There could be some kind of infections, the hospital, dirty hospital, people can die because of a dirty hospital. So if they saw their cleaning job as saving lives, it’s changed everything. Right? It’s just a perspective. It’s still the same. You’re still cleaning toilets, but if you see it that way. It’s huge.

Marta Zaraska: [00:29:38] So even you may not be cleaning a hospital, but maybe you’re even cleaning some kind of corporate offices. You can see that the way you say they are making some product you believe in and you’re making it better for the people who work here to make this product go whatever. Right. You really can change your perspective. So you really don’t have to be the top earning, making some huge career at all. It can be even destructive. There is so much research showing that when people make more money, they’re actually less empathetic. And empathy is another extremely important thing I talk about in Growing Young, because it’s the basis of all the connections. Not only it can affect our health directly on a physiological level, empathy, but also because it improves our relationships, it boosts our kindness, volunteering, charitable giving. And so it’s really important. So money can just be distractor.

Maria Marlowe: [00:30:26] Yeah, for sure. I just love that explanation. So you mentioned empathy. Let’s talk about kindness. That’s the third key of the book. So talk about kindness. And where does that play a role? How does that you know, I’d love to hear about the research where kindness can actually impact our wellbeing.

Marta Zaraska: [00:30:46] Yes, kindness, I mean, there are different ways to be kind right, so you can be volunteering, which there is lots of research showing that people who volunteer, they spend less time in hospitals, they live longer. They have lower risk of diabetes. For example, you can be donating money. And it also works to boost your health or you can just be doing everyday kindness, right, as being a kind of person and just simple random acts of kindness. And there is even research showing that it can affect your body on the level of the white cells in your blood. So when the researchers randomized people, some were doing acts of kindness and others were just not doing them. So those who are performing acts of kindness, their leukocytes, the white blood cells had different gene expression of those people who didn’t do the acts of kindness. So it’s really, really very physiological. And I actually saw it on myself as well. Before writing Growing Young I did this kind of experiment on myself with collaboration from scientists from King’s College, London. And what we’ve done is that we devised an experiment based on large scale real experiments where for seven days I had to measure my cortisol levels by chewing on this kind of cortisol swabs to collect your saliva in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening for seven days. And on three of those days, randomly chosen, I engaged the world of kindness in the morning and saying, How can I be kind today?

Marta Zaraska: [00:32:17] So I baked cookies for my husband to work. I brought some chocolates for our library lady. I cleaned some trash in our neighborhood. I put the sticky notes of a happy smiley face on my neighbors car, you know, just small things like that. And not only felt really good, just planning it, it was a really pleasurable and fun to just think about those nice things I can do. But afterwards, when the scientists at King’s College London, when they analysed my levels of cortisol, they noticed that on the days when I was doing the kindness, the cortisol slows because your cortisol behaves in a certain way from the day. So it starts high, then it drops and the way it drops it really tells you a lot about your stress levels and how healthy your stress responses. We could really see that on those days my stress response was much, much healthier, much better then on all the other days, even though one of my kindness days was very stressful for me for personal reasons, and yet my body didn’t respond to the stress in this kind of toxic way. My cortisol was still behaving much better than most likely because all the kindness I was doing, which are a much larger scale, proper studies actually show. But it was fascinating to see the actual graphs and actual numbers of my own body.

Maria Marlowe: [00:33:31] Yeah. So the lesson there is when you’re having a bad day, still be nice. Be nice to people. Get someone some cookies.

Marta Zaraska: [00:33:38] Even more. The more stressed you are, the more times you should be because it’s good for your stress.

Maria Marlowe: [00:33:44] Is there anything that and what about philanthropy? Say, for example, does giving money have the same effect as time?

Marta Zaraska: [00:33:54] So it’s not the same effect. It’s also good for you. It also helps. But if you were to choose giving time or giving money, giving time is always better. So between those two, choose time. But it’s better to donate money than to do anything. And donating money also has positive health effects. So don’t choose. OK, I will not volunteer. I’ll just donate money. This choice is worse for you, but still better than nothing. And if you do it on top, then it’s extra boost. And there are even fascinating studies showing that it can even affect how strong your muscles are. So, for example, when researchers asked people to kind of try themselves with holding some kind of heavy weight before and after they donated some money, after donating money, you can actually hold a heavy weight longer than if you don’t donate money. It kind of gives you the same kind of muscle strength then it sounds weird, but it actually does work on a physiological level as well. So donating money works too but choose time.

Maria Marlowe: [00:34:51] Donate before a race or any sort of athletic feat. New hack.So, now that we’re living in these COVID times and much of the world is going into lockdown. Right. What tips or what advice would you give people? How could we maintain these connections and relationships, stay optimistic, stay kind when the world feels like it’s ending sometimes?

Marta Zaraska: [00:35:22] I mean, I think those things are even more important now than before, because exactly where we’re feeling stress, we are you know, our health is more in challenge. So there are some very simple tips of very precise lines. For example, if you are to connect with somebody else, choose calling over texting. There is actually research showing that if you text someone, you don’t have the same oxytocin, the love hormone boost as if you hear their voice, so getting exactly the same message with a voice call gives you more powerful oxytocin boost than getting the exact same words over text. So choose calling over texting. That’s one. And, of course, probably video is even more powerful, although there are no studies yet that. But I would guess that seeing the person is even better and generally the work on your connections, it’s still possible. If you’re locked down on your own, then it’s a little bit harder. But if you are locked down on your family, for example, of your spouse or your children, put extra effort in those relationships and give them extra hugs, look them directly into their eyes and gives you this exactly, gives you the oxytocin serotonin boost, the social hormones that not only improve your relationships, but also improve your health doing things together.

Marta Zaraska: [00:35:22] I mean, I think those things are even more important now than before, because exactly where we’re feeling stress, we are you know, our health is more in challenge. So there are some very simple tips of very precise lines. For example, if you are to connect with somebody else, choose calling over texting. There is actually research showing that if you text someone, you don’t have the same oxytocin, the love hormone boost as if you hear their voice, so getting exactly the same message with a voice call gives you more powerful oxytocin boost than getting the exact same words over text. So choose calling over texting. That’s one. And, of course, probably video is even more powerful, although there are no studies yet that. But I would guess that seeing the person is even better and generally the work on your connections, it’s still possible. If you’re locked down on your own, then it’s a little bit harder. But if you are locked down on your family, for example, of your spouse or your children, put extra effort in those relationships and give them extra hugs, look them directly into their eyes and gives you this exactly, gives you the oxytocin serotonin boost, the social hormones that not only improve your relationships, but also improve your health doing things together.

Marta Zaraska: [00:36:35] So there is fascinating research on synchrony. So when we, for example, this kind of synchronized dancing, like Macarena kind of dancing, flash dancing or singing together, it actually gives us even more. It doubles the output of endorphins, for instance, the hormones that give you the runners high, but also our natural painkillers, for example. So dance together, sing together, just do things together. And also maybe this time can give you more chance to think about things like purpose in life. There is this amazing quote by Nietzsche that I actually have here on my on my wall that says that he who has a why to live can bear almost any how. So no matter how tough the times gets, if you have a purpose, it makes things easier. And there is already research on coronaviruses & purpose in life. It’s done in Germany, it shows that people who do have purpose in life actually suffer much less stress and much less mental adverse health effects of coronavirus lockdowns than those who don’t have purpose in life. So really try to think about that. That’s what gives you the meaning. What can be your purpose in life? And just thinking about it can realize that you already have one for, for instance. But just take time to think about it.

Maria Marlowe: [00:37:47] Those are all great tips, and I think the important takeaway here with the purpose, I just I know from, I’ve done a couple of different episodes on this and just hearing from people, I think sometimes it stresses people out to figure out their purpose because they feel like they have what is the one thing that I have to do? And if you don’t know, like if you don’t have a strong calling towards something, it could make you feel worse. But realizing that your purpose may be at this point in time is just to beautify your community or to make art or to take care of your kids or whatever it is that might be your your ikigai. So don’t feel like you have to come up with this grand thing. Yeah. So so that’s really helpful.

Marta Zaraska: [00:38:33] The Japanese people I talked with, the centenarians and ninety and eight year olds, they’re actually their ikigais were exactly surprisingly low key for most people. It was their family or their community, just really, really small things. Actually, I don’t think anybody mentioned some, you know, save the polar bears or anything like this, just anything huge. It was really kind of very small, but still gave them this kind of feeling that there is something they’re living for. And it was always about giving back. All right. So, for example, one time during one interview, somebody asked me, is golfing, can golfing be my ikigai? Because it gets me out of bed in the morning? So unfortunately, I confirmed with some researchers I talked to recently, so I said no golfing doesn’t work. It has to be something, unless you use golf to somehow improve the lives of others. But in general, it has to be some kind of giving back to other people.

Maria Marlowe: [00:39:28] So one last question that I like to ask all my guests. If you can leave our listeners with just one tip or one piece of advice on how they can live a happier and healthier life, what would that be? Well, it doesn’t have anything.

Marta Zaraska: [00:39:42] Ok, so commit time to spending to your relationships, like the way we put time in our apps, to make sure we exercise or that we do the ten thousand steps a day or just make sure to put into your calendar, you know, spend time with my spouse, spend time with my friends, just make sure to find time.

Maria Marlowe: [00:40:05] I love it. Well, thank you so much. I really love this episode. If you guys want to check out the book, it’s called Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100. It’s available on Amazon. Wherever books are sold, I will link to it. And where else can people find you?

Marta Zaraska: [00:40:22] So you can check the books website is www.growingyoungthebook.com and you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @mzaraska and you can connect with me.

Maria Marlowe: [00:40:37] Awesome.Thank you so much Marta.

Marta Zaraska: [00:40:39] Thank you.



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