Optimism for a Longer Life!

Optimism for a Longer Life!

I recently read a journal article which both surprised and inspired me. In this Newsletter, I’d like to share the findings of some scientific studies regarding the tremendous impact of positive thinking on health.

A positive outlook on life has physiological effects. Positive attitudes have been shown to reduce the risk of certain diseases and to increase resistance to infection and immune response when it is needed. In fact, we may be able to predict an individual’s longevity by measuring his/her attitudes and disposition.

The Women’s Health Initiative Study collected data from 100,000 women ages 50 plus since 1994. The data was primarily used to study the effects of hormone replacement therapies on women. That being said, it also collected data on other parameters such as optimism. Researchers found that optimistic women were 14% less likely to die from any cause compared with pessimistic thinkers. These women were 30% less likely to die of heart disease- the number 1 cause of death amongst American women- than their pessimistic peers during the 8 years of the study. The study found that optimists were less likely to have high blood pressure or diabetes and were less likely to be cigarette smokers. Conversely, the study found that those women who were highly mistrustful of people (termed “cynically hostile” by the researchers) were 16% more likely to die during the study period and were 23% more likely to die from cancer. These women were also significantly more likely to die of heart disease.

Being optimistic may actually enhance immune function. A study of law students found that those who were more optimistic had higher numbers of immune cells (called helper T cells) and another class of immune cell (called natural killer cells) was more powerful (cytotoxic) in its action. Another study on law students found that students who were optimistic mounted a stronger immune response than their pessimistic fellows. These students were injected with a substance to summon an immune response. Those who were positive in their thinking actually showed a larger “bump” (a measure of the immune response) than their gloomy peers. And if you thought attitude affects only those in law-related professions, another study in the general population of subjects aged 18-54 found that those with positive emotional style (associated with feeling lively, full of pep, energetic, happy, calm, and relaxed) exhibited fewer cold symptoms and were less likely to develop a cold than those with a negative emotional style (associated with feelings of sadness, being on edge, nervousness, tension, hostility, resentment, and anger).

People who find joy, excitement, and contentment in their daily lives are more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviors (such as exercise, healthy eating, and not smoking). They are also more likely to have greater social connectedness, perceived social support, and more adaptive coping mechanisms. Being more positive, tends to decrease stress hormones. All of these things can have a profound impact on health and longevity.

In a previous newsletter, I wrote about the value of laughter therapy. Having a sense of humor and being able to laugh may reduce mortality by up to 20% compared with people who do not think in a humorous way! Twenty percent! That’s a huge impact. If we can only train ourselves and our children to see the brighter, lighter side of life- even if just for a few moments each day, we can extend our lives significantly (and make those longer years happier and more meaningful too).

After reading this research, I took on two personal projects to help myself and my patients enhance our positive thinking. The first thing I did, on a personal level, was to launch a project to boost my own enthusiasm for life. I selected a book (aptly named “Enthusiasm”, by Z. Pliskin) which features daily lessons in enthusiasm. We try to read a lesson a day together around the dinner table. As the author notes, simply being aware of wanting to be more enthusiastic and optimistic about life is a good start. The second thing I’ve put into place in my practice is a “Pleasure Inventory”. So often we are not aware enough of those things which enhance our joy in life. Incorporating more of these things (people, events, music, surroundings, etc) can help us to experience more happiness and excitement about life. Here’s a sample below:

Category Pleasure Ways to Incorporate It
Home: For example: Bath with lavender essential oil and a good book! Schedule a bath night once a week.
Use lavender essential oil on temples and wrists.
Take a longer shower if bathing is not an option
Work/School:
Social: For example: Girl’s night Schedule a night out with friends once a month.
If going out is difficult, invite a friend to visit or simply check in over the phone.
Other: For example: music Load iPod and play it all day!
Purchase inexpensive radio for the shower.
Sing with my kids.

In summary, the scientific evidence is indisputable- being a positive, optimistic person will increase your chances of living a longer, healthier, more pleasurable life. I encourage you to find ways to inject joy and enthusiasm into every day!

Please Note: This information is for educational purposes only. Consultation with a licensed health care practitioner is recommended for anyone suffering from a health ailment. If you have any questions, or would like to schedule an appointment, please feel free to contact Dr. Leat Kuzniar, ND at 201-757-5558 or, through email at drkuzniar@verizon.net.

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