August 9, 2016 8:00 AM EDT
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

You want to know how to get healthy? Eat better, exercise and get more sleep… But you don’t need me to tell you that. You know that.

So is health just a matter of biology? Nope. Research shows living well is more than marathons and what you put in your mouth. So let’s learn the health-boosting stuff that nobody talks about.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The first wealth is health.” But I’m a nerd, so that’s not specific enough for me… What’s your health really worth? Economists say it’s the equivalent of making an extra $463,170 a year.

So keep reading. This is half-a-million dollars worth of insight…

Get Your Act Together

What personality trait is the single best predictor of a long life? Conscientiousness. What is it? Basically, it’s being “efficient, organized, neat, and systematic.”

Having your act together doesn’t just make you productive and a good worker, it also prevents dying.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

And being more conscientious isn’t just correlated with celebrating 90th birthdays. It’s also connected tohigher incomes, job satisfaction, long marriages and being healthier overall.

You need a feeling of control over your life. Unless you’re a fan of heart attacks, that is:

Being flaky might be fun but it’s the straight-A students who have better health in their later years. And research demonstrates that the old saying is true: wild rockstars really do live fast — and die young.

(To learn the 6 things the most organized people do every day, click here.)

Alright, you’re being more conscientious. But that’s not much fun. What dramatically improves your health and also makes you happier?

Relationships Are Essential (Humans Are Optional)

Having few friends is the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s worse for your health than not exercising.

Via Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are:

What’s the best thing to have after heart surgery? A happy marriage. Married people were 2.5 times more likely to be alive 15 years after a coronary bypass. Happily married people were 3.2 times as likely to still be around.

And if you don’t want to have a heart attack in the first place, kiss more often. It lowers cholesterol.

Now I said relationships are important. Not necessarily people. Your friends don’t all have to be human…

Research shows one year after a heart attack, dog owners are nine times more likely to be alive. In fact,studies show your dog may be better for your health than your spouse is.

But whether it’s Fiona or Fido, you want to have friends you are close to and can rely on. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says the answer to one question can likely predict whether you’ll be alive and happy at age 80:

(To learn how to make friends easily — and strengthen the friendships you have — click here.)

If we could only hang with our friends all day long… But we can’t. Ya gotta go to work. Is your job killing you? It literally might be. What makes a job bad for your health or good for it?

Read more: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

Work Somewhere That Treats You Fairly

Feeling like you’re not being paid fairly can lead to a heart attack:

Meanwhile, Stanford professor Bob Sutton pointed me to this study showing a company that believes intreating people right is quite good for your ticker:

Oh, and try to find a job you enjoy, too. “Bored to death” isn’t an exaggeration when it comes to the workplace. Yeah, a boring job can lead to — you guessed it — a heart attack:

(To learn what Harvard research says will make you happier and more successful, click here.)

So you’re organized, have tons of friends and your workplace is as fair as Snow White. But what attitude do you need to stay healthy?

Read more: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

Don’t Be A Jerk

Billy Joel sang “Only The Good Die Young.” Billy’s wrong. Don’t listen to Billy.

The Terman Study followed a group of people from childhood to old age — over 80 years. They found the exact opposite: the bad die early.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

(I have no data regarding relationship success with Uptown Girls.)

You won’t live longer if you feel loved and cared for. You will live longer if you love and care for others.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

In many areas of life, including health, nice guys do not finish last:

(To learn an FBI behavior expert’s secrets to getting people to like you, click here.)

Alright, time to correct a big myth you probably believe about wellness. When you think health, you probably think “reduce stress.” In some cases, that can be a very bad idea…

Read more: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

Too Little Stress Can Be As Bad As Too Much

No doubt, studies show too much stress can be bad for your health. But the important words there are “too much.” Some stress can be also be healthy.

You need to strive toward goals to get the most out of life. If you want to perform — and live — optimally, you don’t need zero stress. You need a Goldilocks-style “just right” amount.

What happens when you retire and stop challenging yourself? Your brain turns to mush, that’s what:

Now what if you stress yourself to the max… but you love what you’re doing? The Terman Study found:

If you’re unhappy and frazzled, yeah, you might need to ease up. But if you love your job? If you find it worthwhile and fulfilling? Work your ass off.

(To learn how to stop being lazy, click here.)

So what’s a little thing you can do right now, in your head, without lifting a finger, that science says will make you healthier?

Forgive Others. And Yourself.

Being bitter over what someone did to you doesn’t just make you angry; it can also make you sick:

So don’t be bitter. Forgiveness is good for your health:

And forgiving yourself when you screw up has all kinds of benefits. It can help reduce procrastination, increase creativity, and even improve self-control.

(To learn how to be more compassionate with yourself, click here.)

Alright, we covered a lot. Let’s round it all up and learn the one thing you absolutely need to do to be healthier — which may even be more powerful than exercise…

Sum Up

Here’s how to get healthy:

  • Get your act together: It keeps you healthy. Bonus: it also keeps you out of jail.
  • Relationships are essential: Got someone you can call at 4AM? Or someone with 4 legs?
  • Work someplace that treats you fairly: If you think 30 minutes on the treadmill makes up for 40 hours of misery, think again.
  • Don’t be a jerk: Ignore Billy Joel.
  • Too little stress can be as bad as too much: Retirement is brain death followed by death-death.
  • Forgive others. And yourself: If there are typos in this post, I forgive me.

Yes, you should exercise. Yes, eat better. Yes, get enough sleep. But don’t forget the stuff we just talked about.

And if you’re going to do only one thing to improve your health, frankly, hitting the gym every day might not be the best choice.

What was that 80-year-long Terman Study’s most important recommendation for a longer life?

Being an athlete is great. But you might be even healthier if you’re a cheerleader for your friends.

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This article originally appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

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