A BALANCED diet, exercise, genetics, and even certain medications can work in concert to make a person healthy. But a person’s demeanour also can factor into personal health.
The Mayo Clinic says that whether or not a person is an optimist or a pessimist can affect many areas of his or her health and well-being, and those who see the glass as half-full may ultimately be healthier than those who see it as half-empty.
Positive thinking can make it easier to manage stress. The body responds differently based on an individual’s mood, and it may produce stress hormones if a person’s outlook is negative. Such stress hormones can compromise the immune system, increase blood pressure and even reduce the body’s ability to burn fat effectively. Thinking negatively and being on edge also can increase a person’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease and aging prematurely.
Conversely, maintaining a positive attitude can be good for your health. Studies have shown that thinking positively can lower rates of depression and anxiety, increase life expectancy and provide greater resistance to certain illnesses, such as the common cold. A 2012 preliminary study from researchers at Stanford University found that daughters of mothers suffering from depression were able to witness their own stress levels go down on a real-time brain scan as they switched from negative thoughts to happy ones.
Researchers are unsure why positive thinking has such profound effects. But in addition to limiting stress-releasing hormones, positive thinking may inspire people to live healthier lifestyles that make them more likely to get routine physical activity and eat a healthy diet. Happy people also may be less likely to use tobacco products or alcohol as a coping mechanism when dealing with elevated stress levels, and such people will not have to deal with the side effects that can come with these unhealthy behaviours.
Becoming a more positive thinker can take a little effort for those without a natural inclination for optimism. But because positive thinking boasts such significant health benefits, men and women might want to try the following methods to embrace their optimistic side.
• Exercise. Start an exercise regimen, as physical activity naturally reduces stress and can improve mood.
• Embrace humour. Surround yourself with others who bring a smile to your face. Look for ways to laugh as much as possible. Rather than go out to dinner or a bar with friends, head to a comedy club. Choose comedies at the movie theatre and find humour in everyday happenings.
• Identify areas that need change. Think about moments in life that may bring you down or inspire negative reactions. If work is problematic, figure out ways to make it better and work toward improving the situation.
• Be supportive of yourself. Consider what you would say to others and then treat yourself the same way. Would you be overly negative or derogatory toward a complete stranger? Probably not, and there is no reason to be harsh with yourself, either. Push negative thoughts away.
• Volunteer. One way to see the world in a more positive light is to help others who may be less fortunate than you. Volunteering not only helps others, but it also can help you put your own problems in perspective. Volunteering also helps you feel good about your efforts, which can translate into positive thinking.
• Think like a child. Take a cue from youngsters and find joy in the little things. Let children be the leaders in activities and mimic what they do. You just may find yourself laughing more and enjoying yourself. Being silly for a little while is one way to recapture the feelings of youth.
Positive thinking is more than the subject matter of self-help books. It’s a viable way to improve personal health and live longer.