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Zorba Paster: Time to stop worrying

Are you someone who worries all the time? About family, money, relationships? Worry. Worry. Worry. Sometimes it never stops.

An article published in the British Medical Journal shows that your worries might just be causing you an early death. Now wait one second. I know what you’re thinking – worry might cause my early demise? How could that be?

First on to the study. Then on to my theory.

This study came out of Denmark. The advantage here is that all of Scandinavia has a long tradition of socialized medicine. Whether you’re pro-one-payer system – i.e. socialized – or anti-, there is one advantage here from a scientific point of view. Their medical record. From birth to death, researchers know when patients have seen a doctor, what diseases they might have, and when they died. It’s a treasure trove of information.

In 2000, researchers followed 10,000 middle-aged men and women – asking about their health habits (what they ate, when they exercised, if they smoked) and their social relationships. For years they queried them about how they got along at work, with their friends and family. How often did they worry? When did they get angry? How about those arguments? And with whom did you yell?

Then they controlled for those health habits – what I call the boosters and busters of longevity. Exercise is a booster, smoking is a buster, for example.

They found that folks who worried all the time, found that their family made too many demands, argued and yelled had a 50 percent increase in their risk of premature death – from all causes. More heart attacks. More strokes. More cirrhosis. More cancer. And the worst of all were people who argued incessantly. They had the highest risk. Wow! Who would have thought?

Major events such as illness, divorce, death of a loved one, unemployment, too little money in the bank, a job that you hate played a major role. As well as education. The less educated you were, the more likely you were to die earlier. (By the way, education is a greater predictor of quality of life and longevity. Get two years of post-high school education and you’ll live eight to 10 years longer and be less likely to be disabled. For my readers who are debating the benefits of getting that degree, this is an eye-opener).

So what to do? If you’re a worrier, seek help. You may need counseling or to see a priest, minster, rabbi or imam. Perhaps you need to declare bankruptcy? There is no universal answer but there are individual ones.

My spin: What I discovered several years ago when I wrote a book “The Longevity Code – Your Personal Prescription for a Longer, Sweeter Life,” was that the “undiscussed” issue among physicians is social relationships.

The more I read, the more I saw that they play a clear role in physical health. So if you’re a worrier, arguer, and yeller, nurturing those social relationships may be your first step. Instead of “raising the heat” about something that bothers you, share some quality time with a friend or loved one. You’ll live longer.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a physician, professor, author and broadcast journalist. He hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7; email him at

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