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The Link Between a Healthy Mindset and a Healthy Heart

February 07, 2020

Health and happiness are two things most of us strive for in life. What if we told you that these two lifestyle goals work hand in hand? A recent study from researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at the impact of optimism on aging, with surprising results.

Study after study seems to show a clear link between one’s outlook on life and their health. Negative thinking can actually harm your health, so maybe it’s time to learn ways you can start being more positive each day. Every change you make to be more positive may help both strengthen and lengthen your life.  

Fast Facts About a Positive Mindset

No one expects you to be positive all the time. There are some situations in life that are stressful, or painful, and there’s even an appropriate context for anger and other less than pleasant emotions. We don’t suggest suppressing difficult emotions or just trying to put a positive spin on everything. However, Tchiki Davis, Ph.D. from Psychology Today suggests focusing on our blessings as much as possible can help train your brain to think more positively. Using more positive language daily produces better memories that your brain will have easier access to later.

Medical experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest that positive thinking can lead to health benefits like:

It’s also thought that those who think more positively develop better stress coping skills. This can help reduce stress on the body and mind long-term. And those who think more positively are also more likely to lead a healthier lifestyle in other ways. They may have a tendency to drink less alcohol, not smoke, eat healthier and exercise more.

What Does The Research Say About Positive Thinking And Health?

Optimism and Aging

The most recent study on positive thinking and health comes from the researchers at Harvard and Boston University. This 2019 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at optimism and aging. Study results show that those who are more optimistic in their thinking lived longer than others.

The study looked at data from more than 70,000 adults, mostly women, and followed their health outcomes for 10 to 30 years. Participants had to complete a survey at the start of the study to determine their level of optimism.  

Findings of this study were independent of factors like socioeconomic status, health conditions, and depression that could impact mental health. Those men and women who reported the highest levels of optimism lived 11-15% longer than their less optimistic counterparts. Researchers suggest that these study results show that making positive thinking a priority can help lengthen life.

Positive Thinking and Heart Health

Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine report that positive thinking can help improve heart health. One study shows that those with a family history of heart disease who had a positive outlook versus a negative outlook were one-third less likely to have a cardiac event. Researchers used a survey measuring energy levels, anxiety, life satisfaction, and cheerfulness to assess “positive” versus “negative” outlook.

Considering what we understand about neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin — sometimes referred to as “happy hormones” — as well as the negative health impact of the stress hormone cortisol, these results make perfect sense. When our minds are calmer, our bodies are calmer, resulting in better health. When we are tense or stressed, our bodies are under more pressure, which can lead to chronic health conditions if stress levels are high for extended periods of time.

So, How Can I Have A More Positive Outlook On Life?

If you feel like your outlook needs work, use the tips below to become more positive and healthier.

  1. Live your life with purpose. A 2018 study by Zhang and colleagues looked at the connection between meaning and health. Study results show that a sense of meaning in life led to health and healthcare use among the elderly. Alex Pattakos, Ph.D. at Psychology Today suggests that finding a reason to get out of bed in the morning can improve one’s outlook on life. This meaning or purpose could come from a fulfilling job, volunteer work, a hobby, caring for others, or finding a cause you care about.
  2. Exercise more. A 2017 study by Lathia and colleagues shows that both exercise and non-exercise physical activity can promote happiness. Therefore, try to move as much as you can each day. And it’s even better if you can get some fresh air often by being active outdoors. This is because studies show that sunlight exposure influences the production of serotonin. Also, known as the “feel good hormone,” serotonin can positively influence mood.
  3. Encourage both yourself and others. It’s important to provide encouragement to those around as well as to yourself. Also, think about things and people you are grateful for.
  4. Surround yourself with positive people. A 2015 article by Amy Morin of Psychology Today explains why it’s so important to spend time around people who lift you up. She explains how you start acting like the people you spend the most time with. So, if you primarily spend time with a group of people who complain constantly, chances are that you will find yourself doing the same. Therefore, if you want to be more positive, you should surround yourself with people who act and speak positively too.
  5. Limit social media exposure. Although social media use has its benefits, a 2018 study by Shensa and colleagues shows that certain patterns of high frequency social media use can increase the risk of anxiety and depression. Although the exact cause of such increased risk is unclear, limiting screen time could provide obvious benefits. Less screen time could allow more time to enjoy face-to-face connections with others, or get more fresh air and sunlight exposure. As mentioned before, this can positively impact both physical and mental health.

Happiness Brings Health And Health Brings Happiness

Being happy not only improves your quality of life, it looks like it may also improve the length of your life. If you have a mental health disorder that affects mood, then it’s important to talk to a professional healthcare provider right away. They can provide you with resources and tools that can help you improve your symptoms and quality of life.

Regardless of your health status now, you can start using some of the strategies above to improve your mindset. Don’t expect an overnight change, since it most likely took years to develop the negative habits, and it will likewise take time to develop new, healthier ones. But the more work you put into thinking well, the better you’ll feel inside and out.

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