Can happiness and positivity help you live longer? Experts are now saying yes. In a new study led by Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois, found that optimists have double the chances of being in better cardiovascular health than their pessimistic counterparts. This study investigates the question: Is there a connection between our ways of thinking and our health?
The participants' data for Rosalba's study were derived from MESA, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, an ongoing examination of cardiovascular disease which includes over 6,000 participants across six regions in the United States. This study was one of the first of its kind to evaluate such a large and diverse population. Rosalba and her team analyzed the participants’ cardiovascular health by assessing the same metrics used by the American Heart Association to define heart health. These metrics include: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, diet, physical activity and tobacco use.
The researchers measured these health metrics by giving them a score of 0, 1 or 2 (poor, intermediate, ideal) based on their individual results and summed their total cardiovascular health score, ranging anywhere from 0 to 14. The higher their total score, the better health condition of the participant.
The participants were also asked to complete surveys to assess their mental health and levels of optimism. The results found that people who were the most optimistic were also 50-76 percent more likely to have health scores in the intermediate and ideal ranges. Optimists, they found, were more likely to be physically active, have healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke which contributed to better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels.
Heart disease in the United States affects hundreds of thousands of people each year. This study gives hope that we can learn how to influence our mental and physical health by simply incorporating positivity in our everyday lives. Though it has not been proven that negative attitudes directly cause negative health effects, it does seem that positivity links with positive health effects.
There are still many health risks that are unfortunately, out of our control. But these studies provide us the knowledge of what we can control to ultimately create a healthier and more enjoyable lifestyle. Looking for ways to incorporate more optimism into your life?
- Make it a point to eat healthier: Diet has a big affect on how you feel. Be sure to eat foods that help pump you up, not bring you down. This means avoiding a lot of processed foods and sugars.
- Exercise regularly: Incorporating exercise into your daily routine will not only aid with weight loss, it has also been proven to help you sleep better, manage stress in a more positive way and make you feel better overall.
- Enjoy your hobbies and interests: Take time out of your daily routine to enjoy the things that truly make you happy. Making time for a hobby acts as a stress reliever and can ultimately benefit your mental and physical health.
- Spend time with friends and family: Being around people that you love can have a big impact on your life. Allowing yourself to be social can help combat feelings of loneliness and depression--two feelings that can end up having a negative impact on your life and well-being.