Thursday, December 8, 2016

Positive thinking can fend off cancer, heart disease and infection for 8 years

Having a more positive outlook on life may help people live longer.

A new study has revealed that women who are optimistic are less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, stroke, infection, and several other major causes of death.

The positive health effects for the women were shown to last over eight years.

The researchers suggest that public health professionals should begin pushing positivity in patients alongside a healthy diet and exercise.

'The link between optimism and health is important to study because it can be changed, and so can easily help people,' said lead-author of the study and Social and Behavioural Sciences expert Dr Eric Kim.

'It's something that not many people think about.'

'A lot of modern healthcare is about sick care and not optimism.

'But actually by enhancing patients' optimism, as well as their diet and exercise regime, we could see plenty of health benefits,' he said.

Though the study only investigated women's health, the researchers say that their results likely apply to men as well.

And Dr Kim has some tips to leading a more optimistic life.

'Good optimistic habits include writing down everything kind you have done for other people, or writing down everything you're grateful for every day for a week.' 

'There is also a "best possible self" exercise, in which you visualise your ultimate goal in important aspects of your life, such as your work or love life.

'Over the next seven days, try to visualise what needs to be done to achieve this outcome.'

The Harvard study analysed data from 2004-2012 from 70,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study.

This long-running study has biannually tracked women's health via surveys for 40 years.

The team looked at participants' levels of optimism alongside other factors that might play a role in mortality risk, such as race, high blood pressure, diet, and physical activity.

The most optimistic women had a nearly 30% lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analysed compared with the study's least optimistic women.

The most optimistic women had: A 16% lower risk of dying from cancer, 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease; 39% lower risk of dying from stroke; 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease; and a 52% lower risk of dying from infection.

The positive health effects for the women were shown to last over eight years.

Optimism - a general expectation that good things will happen - has previously been shown to improve people's health by inspiring healthy behaviors, such as exercising regularly and eating healthily.

But the new research, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, found that these healthy behaviours only partially explain the lower risk of death in optimists.

The Harvard team speculate that there is actually a direct, intrinsic biological link between positivity, happiness, and health. 

While other studies have linked optimism with reduced risk of early death from cardiovascular problems, this was the first to find a link between optimism and reduced risk from other major causes.

'We don't know for sure, but we think that positivity could reduce inflammation and raise antioxidants levels,' said Dr Kim.

'Studies have shown that these things cut people's risk of various diseases.
'It could also boost the immune system.'

In future, Dr Kim and his team at the Boston-based Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, hope to further explore the direct biological pathways between optimism and health.

And whilst positivity can help with health, Dr Kim warns against victim blaming.

'Some people might not want to become more optimistic, and it's important we respect that as a society.'

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