Entire industries and companies have been developed to help consumers find ways to reduce stress both medically and holistically, plus reverse its damage on the body. According to an article in Time magazine, Americans spent over $280 billion on prescription medications in 2013. Imagine, however, that a proven anti-illness intervention exists for free. Imagine that people around the globe, with or without access to insurance, with or without education or advanced culture, can experience prolonged life and vitality. Better yet, imagine that each person is born with the necessary potential elements to experience these positive outcomes. Now exit your imagination and enter the real world. Scientific research from a variety of health arenas proves that you can be healthier through one simple choice every day: be optimistic.
According to a study published in the Journal of Personality, the benefits of optimism occur regardless of culture, age, education, gender, or income level. In fact, 89% of 152,000 subjects from 142 countries (analyzed from data collected in the Gallup World Poll) reported a sanguine outlook. Optimism, it seems, is a world phenomenon unrestricted by the level of a country’s industrialized development. A primary aspect of the holistic management of global health, it seems, is on a level playing field.
We all know that mindset affects health, but what does that mean, exactly, and how can the benefits show up in your life? Easily. And in such areas as heart health, age-related decline, stroke, emotional regulation, and life expectancy.
Health Benefits of Optimism
The negative effects of stress on the body have been widely researched and documented. In a summarizing article, WebMD reports:
- 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
- 75% to 90% of all doctors’ office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
- Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
- The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.
Recent research, however, proves that such effects and their expected outcomes can be diminished and/or reversed by actively engaging in optimism. For example:
- Reduced Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). In a scientific review published in Psychological Bulletin, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) examined how optimism and happiness help protect against cardiovascular disease. Julia Boehm, lead author and research fellow in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH, explains: “We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of CVD regardless of such factors as a person’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight… the most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50% reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers.”
- Improved Cholesterol Numbers. Published in The American Journal of Cardiology, another HSPH study discovered that middle-aged subjects who scored as optimistic experienced increased levels of “good” cholesterol and decreased levels of triglycerides.
- Stabilized Effects of Aging. The Canadian Medical Association Journal published the results of a study that analyzed more than 3,100 subjects 60 years or older. It found that 21% had a high level of life enjoyment, 56% medium, and 23% low. Over the course of eight years, all evidenced signs of daily task difficulty and mobility declined—but to significantly differing degrees. Only 4% of those who were upbeat experienced two or more new impairments versus 17% of the least upbeat. Plus, of those in the medium and low level of enjoyment group, 80% were more likely to have developed functional and mobility problems than their happier counterparts.
- Lowered Stroke Risk. Published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association and gathered by researchers at the University of Michigan, the results of a study that followed more than 6,000 non-stroke subjects over a two-year period found that every point increase in optimism correlated to a 9% decrease in acute stroke risk.
- More Effective Emotional Regulation. Dr. Dennis Charney, Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and President for Academic Affairs for the Mount Sinai Health System, studies people who have survived extreme stress, including prisoners of war, U.S. Special Forces, and earthquake victims. His discovery: the most resilient survivors all have in common a number of factors, most predominantly optimism. In Charney’s words, these survivors subscribe to the belief that “this is a challenge, but I will prevail.”
- Advanced Life Expectancy. The Longevity Genes Project, administered by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, studies aging. Research focused on 243 centenarians in 2012 and published in Aging found that the majority of the subjects’ personalities reflected a positive attitude to life. Says Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research, director of Einstein’s Institute for Aging Research, and co-corresponding author of the study: “I thought we’d find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery, but…. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up.” According to the Albert Einstein School of Medicine press release, participants also exhibited (1) lower scores for displaying neurotic personality, and (2) higher scores for being conscientious, compared with a representative sample of the U.S. population.
So there it is: The science behind fewer doctor visits and longer life starts in the way your body responds to your mind. Of course, this isn’t news. You’ve probably known for a long time that what you think directly correlates to how you feel. Up until now maybe it’s been easy to dismiss the idea that your mind can make or break your health; it’s scary to think you have that much power. But this new information reinforces a way to live that makes you feel more bold, courageous, and adventurous in exploring how to facilitate changes that affect your mind and body—and also your wallet.
Are you ready?