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Why an Oscar Win Could Mean a Longer Life

Kimberly Palmer

Here's another reason to root for your favorite actor Sunday night: A win might come not just with a golden trophy, but with a longer life.

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Oscar winners, it turns out, live an average of 3.6 years longer than nominees who go home empty-handed. That echoes broader findings that suggest rich people live longer; that trend appears to hold true even among celebrities.

The Oscar winner-longevity connection was first noticed by researchers Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh and published in 2001 paper. Redelmeier told the New York Times that he decided to investigate whether Oscar winners lived longer after watching the awards and noticing that the celebrities "don't look anything like the patients I see in clinic?It's not just the makeup and the plastic surgery and wardrobe. It's the way they move, it's their gestures. They seem so much more vivacious. It seemed so much more than skin-deep and might go all the way to longevity."

To explore whether his hunch was correct, Redelmeier identified more than 1,649 performers, including those nominated for academy awards and cast members of the same gender and similar age who appeared in the same films as the nominees. After examining the performers' life spans, the study found that Oscar winners lived an average of 3.9 years longer than similar performers who were not nominated. As compared to nominees, Oscar winners had a similar longevity boost: On average, winners lived 3.6 years longer than nominees. (The most common cause of death among all performers was heart disease.)

To explain their findings, Redelmeier and Singh suggest that Oscar winners feel pressure to preserve their image, which could lead to healthier behavior. (Of course, celebrity pressure can also have the reverse effect and lead to very public downfalls.) Oscar winners are also likely to benefit from managers, trainers, personal chefs, and other support staff that help them live a healthy lifestyle. The researchers conclude, "The main implication is that higher status may be linked to lower mortality rates even at very impressive levels of achievement."

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Since this much-cited study first came out, other researchers have poked holes in its statistical validity, suggesting that the actual longevity boost from an Oscar win might just be one year, and a statistically-insignificant one at that, but Redelmeier continues to explore success-longevity connections among high performers.

In fact, Redelmeier and Singh have also since studied Oscar nominees for best screenplay, and came up with the reverse findings: Winners had a lower life expectancy than nominees, and could expect to live 3.6 years less than their non-winning counterparts. One possible reason is the different type of lifestyle required for writing screenplays. In other words, while actors spend time working out and eating well, writers are often hunched over their computers pounding out words. Similarly, Redelmeier found that medical students who served as class presidents died an average of 2.4 years earlier than their non-presidential classmates. Again, Redelmeier suggests a stressful lifestyle--one that includes taking on a lot of responsibility--could make the difference.

The Oscar-longevity connection is just one more reason be happy for the winners Sunday night.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer

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