Longevity and Happiness

How long will you live? Why do some people live exceptionally long lives while others live only an “average” number of years? Why do others not survive the first few hours of life?

Explore longevity and the factors that enable us to live long, happy, and productive lives. Learn why some countries have unusually high numbers of centenarians (people who reach their 100th birthday) and others have life expectancies half that length.

Inside the Classroom

Students in the classroom will learn how longevity varies between individuals, across historical eras, and around the globe. Risk factors (sedentary life style) – and protective factors (dietary habits) – associated with longevity will be explored. A positive attitude toward aging has been shown to add years to life, yet many of us as younger adults fear growing old. How can we reconcile beliefs with knowledge? Students will learn through research, class discussion, and readings how longevity is determined by biological, psychological, social, and cultural factors as well as the personal choices we make across the life span.

Outside the Classroom

Students will connect learning in class to various experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom. You will attend lectures on longevity by leading experts on healthy aging (if we’re lucky, Dan Buettner, of Blue Zones), visit local agencies on aging (e.g., Virginia Association of Area Agencies on Aging), and attend programs and events on aging and longevity (e.g., Walk to End Alzheimer’s).

Students will work with other students and engage in community-based learning (CBL) by immersion at senior residential communities in the greater Richmond metropolitan area. These communities will illustrate differences in demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds of the residents, allowing students to understand how privilege affects longevity. Potential CBL sites include the following:

Students will also take a trip in the fall semester to a Blue Zone, a geographic location with exceptionally long-lived people to interview centenarians in person. The class will travel to Nova Scotia, where they will visit Lunenberg and meet with members of that community.

Research and Capstone Project

In the fall semester, students will be immersed in reading and discussing research and essays on longevity, and interviewing long-lived individuals in Richmond and in a Blue Zone. A research paper based on the interviews and published research will be due at the end of the semester. In the spring, students work in groups with their classmates and their older adult mentors to create a capstone project and give a presentation to the University community (and their mentors) on issues relevant to longevity.

Possible capstone project might include:

  • “Secrets” of centenarians in Blue Zones
  • Profiles of centenarians in Richmond
  • Changes in longevity across historical eras
  • Protective and risk factors related to longevity
  • Upper limits of longevity