One of our 7 Resolutions of Health is to “Think Right”.
It is no secret that how we think can positively contribute to our outlook and overall health.
But, what if I told you that the way you think can also help you live longer?
This article will explore the health benefits of thinking right.
Positive Thinking Benefits Cardiovascular Health
According to the National Institute of Health, coronary heart disease is, “a type of heart disease that develops when the arteries of the heart cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart.”
Unfortunately, it is the leading cause of death in the United states today (1).
While diet and exercise are some of the primary ways to protect against heart disease, there is evidence to suggest that positive thinking may also be beneficial.
Researchers followed a group of 1306 men over a 10 year period. During that time, 162 cases of coronary heart disease occurred.
Those who reported a higher level of optimism experienced a lower relative risk of developing heart problems (2).
Another study examined whether positive thinking has any effect on reducing the risk of cardiovascular health issues.
Researchers looked at data associated with over 6000 retired adults who had not experienced a certain heart issues. Over the course of the 2 year study, researchers found that a higher level of optimism was associated with lower heart problem risk (3).
Based on this evidence, your heart will thank you for developing a positive disposition and outlook on life!
Positive Thinking Benefits Pulmonary Health
Recently, my son broke his leg and experienced a significant amount of pain.
While there was not much either of us could do to control his pain, I kept reminding him that the one thing he could do is control his breathing.
There is evidence to suggest that controlling your breathing can reduce your mental anguish, and have an impact on controlling pain (4).
However, could the inverse be true?
Can the way you think have an impact on your breathing?
One study examined the effects of positive thinking and pulmonary function.
Researchers examined the same data from the coronary heart disease study referenced above, but this time, they reviewed pulmonary function.
They discovered that the participants of the study who were more optimistic had a higher level of exhale volume and greater lung capacity relative to those who were more pessimistic (5).
This evidence suggests that not only can breathing control your mind, but your mind can also control your breathing.
Positive Thinking Affects Mortality
If your heart is healthy and your lungs function at an optimal level, obviously that will have an impact on how long you live.
However, researchers wanted to know if non-biological factors could impact overall mortality.
In other words, they wanted to know if positive thinking was associated with living longer.
One study used data from two very large health studies that spanned 30 years.
After adjusting for a number of variables like demographic differences and health behaviors that negatively impact longevity (ie: smoking), researchers discovered that, “participants with highest versus lowest optimism levels had 1.5 (women) and 1.7 (men) greater odds of surviving to age 85” (6).
Another study examined the data from a large data set of 70,021 women.
Like the previously referenced study, researchers accounted for demographic variables and health behaviors that are known to negatively impact longevity.
Then, they isolated the group that had the lowest level of optimism. In other words, they looked at those who had the worst outlook.
They discovered that the group of women with the lowest levels of optimism had a greater risk for all-cause mortality compared to those who had higher levels of optimism (7).
How Can You Become More Optimistic?
Unfortunately, the studies that have examined the connection between optimism and longevity do not give us answers as to why a positive disposition is correlated with a longer lifespan.
While we will need to wait for researchers to provide further insight as to why happy people live longer, we do not need to wait to start thinking right!
If you struggle with being optimistic, here are some ways that Harvard Health suggests (8) you can become more optimistic:
Rather than focus on the negative, try to find the positive in each situation.
For example, rather than asking yourself, “Why do I have to X?”, tell yourself, “I get to X.”
By reframing the task at hand, you will change the disposition of your mind that this task is not a chore you have to do, but an opportunity you get to do.
Accomplishing a goal gives you a sense of accomplishment, which gives you a shot of dopamine to your brain (9).
Try breaking up large tasks into micro-goals. This allows you to feel like you are accomplishing a lot more and makes that task seem less overwhelming.
Coupled with the shots of dopamine, you will not only accomplish your goals, but feel better about doing them!
By its nature, gratitude forces you to look outside of yourself.
When you reflect on the things that you are thankful for, and express that gratitude to someone else, it turns your thoughts to others.
Take up daily journaling.
Send a card to someone to let them know how much you appreciate them.
Call someone you haven’t heard from in a while to let them know you were thinking about them.
Practicing gratitude will not only make you feel better, it will also make someone else feel better!
Strengthen Social Relationships
Strong social networks help to shape and reinforce our identity.
Investing time into building stronger connections with those you are closest to will pay dividends in developing an optimistic outlook.
Take your spouse out on a date.
Spend some time with your children doing something they are interested in.
Call your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or siblings.
Time spent with those we care about most is an investment that will pay dividends you cannot fathom.
Why Do Happy People Live Longer?
We don’t know.
But the research is clear.
There is a strong correlation between our mental disposition and our longevity.
Don’t wait to find out why. Choose to be happy and live longer.