Can a positive outlook add years to your life?
Can a woman’s bright outlook really add years to her life?
The answer is positively yes. At least, according to a Harvard study, which found “optimism is associated with reduced risk of death from stroke, respiratory disease, infection and cancer.”
The research involved a review of the records of 70,000 female participants. The study authors examined the women’s optimism levels and other factors that could potentially affect the results, such as race, high blood pressure, diet and physical activity. They found that, overall, the risk of dying from diseases such as cancer and heart disease was almost 30 percent less among the most optimistic women compared to the least optimistic women.
Advocate Trinity Hospital pain specialist Suneela Harsoor agrees with the study. She says positive thoughts are directly linked to endorphins that create feel-good compounds in the brain. “It’s a circular pattern,” Dr. Harsoor says. “You put positive thoughts out there and they release chemicals that make you feel happy. When we’re happy, we tend to think positively.”
The connections don’t stop there. A bright outlook is also associated with less inflammation and more antioxidants that protect the body’s cells. “Positive thoughts boost immunity and help to minimize infections,’’ Dr. Harsoor says.
Women who see the world through rose-colored glasses are also less likely to die from conditions associated with stress, Dr. Harsoor says.
Conversely, Dr. Harsoor says women who are negatively oriented are more likely to suffer similar biologic consequences. “Bad thoughts lead to bad feelings,’’ she says.
Dr. Harsoor suggests women actively pursue a positive state of mind through meditation which helps stabilize brain chemicals that create anxiety. With just a few minutes of practice, Dr. Harsoor says, many practitioners see a change. The prefrontal cortex — associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration, and decision-making — becomes thicker with mindfulness.
“That makes individuals more focused and productive,” Dr. Harsoor says. “The bottom line is if we can retrain our brains to focus positive energy, we can live better and healthier lives.”