How Positive Thinking Can Improve Your Physical Health

Long-term studies are revealing the physical and psychological benefits of an optimistic outlook.

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Posted in , Mar 5, 2020

A positive outlook

Rigorous studies are confirming what those of us who pursue positivism know by instinct: optimism supports physical and mental well-being.

In a recent analysis of 15 separate studies involving more than 225,000 individual participants, cardiologist Alan Rozanski found that those who reported optimistic and positive thought patterns were less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiac condition than others who were more pessimistic in their outlook.

Rozanski called the data “consistent” across the studies. “In every case, there was a strong relationship between optimism and a lower risk of disease,” he told The New York Times,  “Optimists tend to take better care of their health. They’re more likely to exercise and eat better and are less likely to smoke.”

 

Biologically, pessimism is associated with higher levels of biochemical markers of inflammation and stress, like cortisol and norepinephrine. These levels impact a person’s risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.

The psychology of optimism is as striking as the biology, researchers say. Psychologist Julia K. Boehm say that positive thinkers tend to be effective problem-solvers. She said, “Optimists tend to pursue strategies that make a rosy future a reality. Their hearts are not constantly pounding.”

Some of the skills that are associated with optimism—and its associated positive health outcomes—are:

—The ability to positively re-frame a challenge as an opportunity

—Awareness of thoughts, emotions and mental patterns

—Flexible thinking

—Cultivating feelings of gratitude for large and small positive events

The researchers note that optimism is only effective when it’s authentic—pursuing positivity at all costs can actually backfire, tempting us to ignore warning signs of serious situations or deny the full reality of our emotional lives. 

In even more good news, the research also supports the notion that optimism can have a positive impact on health and well-being at any age. As Rozanski puts it, “It’s never too early, and it’s never too late to foster optimism.”

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