by guest contributor Barb Swanson
“To me, good health is more than just exercise and diet. It’s really a point of view and a mental attitude you have about yourself.” ~Albert Schweitzer
The Attitude Connection
For thousands of years, the state of your mind has been linked to the health of your body. In one way or another, all major religions and ancient health practices address the importance of this link. Today, a new branch of science called psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) studies this link. PNI describes ways in which our emotions and attitude, both positive and negative, can affect our health.
“Your outlook–having a sense of optimism and purpose–seems to be predictive of health outcomes.”
Dr. Laura Kubzansky, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Science on the Mind-Body Link
The actual mechanisms involved with the connection between health and positivity remain unclear. What is clear is that there is definitely a strong link between “positivity” and health. Researchers suspect that people who are more positive may be better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress. Another possibility is that hope and positivity help people make better health and life decisions and focus more on long-term goals.
Specific Studies on the Mind-Body Link
Dr. Kubzansky (referenced in the above quote) has studied the health effects of several forms of psychological well-being. She has found that emotional vitality–characterized by enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance–is associated with a substantially reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
At Johns Hopkin University, Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H., and her team determined “positive” versus “negative” outlook using a survey tool that assesses a person’s cheerfulness, energy level, anxiety levels and satisfaction with health and overall life. They discovered that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event, than those with a more negative outlook.
The Women’s Health and Aging Study involves more than 1,000 women, 65 or older, who have varying levels of disability but still live on their own. Using two tests designed to measure loss of function, women with greater emotional vitality performed significantly better than their less-positive counterparts who had similar levels of disability.
In a study of women with breast cancer. Dr. Sandra Levy at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cancer Institute found that women who were more depressed had lower natural killer cell activity than those with a hopeful, positive outlook. It was also noted that the women who had experienced a great deal of joy and happiness in their lives also had a higher survival rate.
Miscellaneous Health Issues
Studies have found that a positive attitude improves outcomes and life satisfaction across a spectrum of conditions–including traumatic brain injury, stroke and brain tumors. Multiple studies find that negative emotions can weaken immune response.
The Health Benefits of Positive Thinking
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
Feel Better Now
A University of Kansas study found that smiling–even fake smiling–reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations.
Choose how you respond
Unpleasant situations and people are a part of being human. However, we can choose how we handle them. For example, during a traffic jam, accept that there is absolutely nothing you can do about the traffic. Then appreciate the fact that you can afford a car and get to spend a few extra minutes listening to music.
Be true to your heart
When in doubt, listen to your feelings. When we feel forced into actions that do not reflect our beliefs, we can become angry, resentful or depressed.
Commit to yourself
No one else is responsible for your choices. Therefore, commit yourself to remembering, then acting on, the best of who you are and want to be.
In a landmark study, people who were asked to count their blessings felt happier, exercised more, had fewer physical complaints, and slept better than those who created lists of hassles.