TUESDAY, Dec. 6 (HealthDay News) -- The American presidency
comes with perks, from a very nice house to a handy jet at your
disposal, but the job also comes with plenty of stress.
Enough stress to take years off your life? Maybe not, new
The data showed that presidents who die of natural causes don't
seem to lose years off their lives due to the effects of time spent
in the White House. In fact, most of them managed to live longer
than similar men of their era.
The findings don't prove definitively that stress of the
presidency has no effect on the life span of presidents. It may
still take years off their lives; the research doesn't compare them
to men of similar wealth and position, such as members of
Still, "they did a lot better than one would have predicted,
given the circumstances that they were in," said study author S.
Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health at the University of
Illinois at Chicago. "There's no evidence that they're dying
Olshansky also thinks he's shot down one assumption: that each
year in the White House typically takes two years off a president's
life. A recent news report about that assumption, prompted by
photos that showed the aging of President Obama, led Olshansky to
try and see if there was any truth to it.
He was skeptical because presidents share three traits that have
been linked to longer life spans: wealth, education and access to
health care. "They've scored the trifecta," he said.
Olshansky compared the life spans of presidents who died of
natural causes to the life spans of men who were of the same age as
the presidents when they were inaugurated. There was a hitch,
however, because full American statistics from 1789-1899 weren't
available; Olshansky compared presidential life spans in that era
to statistics from France, where he thinks men would have lived
about as long as in the United States.
Of the 34 who died of natural causes (all except Kennedy,
McKinley, Lincoln and Garfield), 23 lived longer than the average
man would have, based on their ages at inauguration. They would
have lived longer than the average for other men of their era even
if they'd somehow aged at twice the normal rate while serving as
Commenting on the report, Dr. James Goodwin, director of the
Sealy Center on Aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch,
said the idea that presidents will be adversely affected by stress
is "fundamentally flawed." Research in animals and some in people
suggests that the most dangerous type of stress comes with
helplessness, such as "when you're a middle manager and can't
change the system," he explained.
"When you're more in charge, it isn't a bad stress," he said.
Goodwin added that presidents aren't like other people. "You're
selecting for people with tremendous life force, incredibly
energetic, emotionally active and positive people," he said.
One idea for future research would be to study the losers of
presidential elections, who would share many traits with the
winners but never actually ended up in the White House, he
The research is published in the Dec. 7 issue of the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
For more about
aging and senior health, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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