Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Optimism doesn’t mean that you have a constant grin, but it does mean remaining positive about what’s to come. As Suzanne Segerstrom, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, puts it: “Happiness is an emotion, a feeling. Optimism is a belief about the future.” Here are some positive effects that optimism could have on your health.
1. Increased life span
Living longer is something we can all be happier about. A positive outlook can influence more than just your mood. “People who are optimistic are more committed to their goals, are more successful in achieving their goals, are more satisfied with their lives, and have better mental and physical health when compared to more pessimistic people,” said Segerstrom.
You’ll also live longer. A Dutch study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that those of a pessimistic disposition were 55% more likely to die during the nine-year follow-up period. The effect was particularly strong in men. A longer life is certainly something to smile about.
2. Greater resistance to the common cold
Whether it’s the result of meditation or singing, having an upbeat outlook will help you fight off illness.
Segerstrom completed a study, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, to investigate the connection between optimism and immunity. She recruited 124 incoming law students and had them complete five questionnaires and immunity checks over the course of a year.
Segerstrom found that when a student displayed optimistic thinking, he or she also showed greater cell-mediated immunity. A pessimistic outlook, on the other hand, had an actual negative effect on the response of immune cells.
That means that negativity may make you more vulnerable to illness. So when you encounter co-workers with a cold or your children catch the flu, try not to stress over it.
3. Lower cholesterol
High cholesterol is an issue for a large portion of Americans. Yes, diet and exercise are a great way to lower your cholesterol, but did you know that by simply being optimistic, you can lower your cholesterol?
A 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health published in The American Journal of Cardiology found that middle-aged study participants who scored as optimistic on a test have higher levels of “good” cholesterol. Now that’s good news!
Try reading, taking a walk, or a yoga session — you’ll feel better and your mind will be in a better place to fight negativity, in turn putting a positive spin on those cholesterol numbers.
4. Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America. Make positivity a part of your arsenal against it: An optimistic approach lowers your chance of heart disease. A study published in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, led by Hilary A Tindle, found that optimists were less likely than pessimists to develop coronary heart disease (CHD).
One study even found that individuals who had higher levels of optimism had a 73% lower risk of heart failure compared with those who were pessimistic. It’s worth noting that previous research has found that optimism may cause people to adopt healthier lifestyles, such as following a healthier diet, exercising more, and managing stress, which may account for the huge difference.
Whether it’s from adapting a move active lifestyle or purely the positivity, those numbers are hard to ignore.
5. Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress or depression
According to George Patton, a professor of adolescent health research at the Murdoch Children’s Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne: “In older adults optimists are less likely to later experience a range of mental and physical health problems, from depression to cardiovascular disease. These relationships are well demonstrated. We have tended to assume the same would hold for adolescents but there have till now not been similar studies examining whether this was true or not.”
His study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that optimism in teens is protective against depression but also modestly helpful in protecting again heavy substance use and antisocial behavior.
It’s not a cure-all, Patton stresses, as many other factors come into play, such as psychological functioning and the circumstances in which teens are raised. But overall, “optimistic kids do better in avoiding emotional and behavioral problems during their teens, but it in no ways makes them immune to setbacks,” he says. Other skills and experiences matter, too.
This goes for people of all ages. Remaining optimistic during stressful times is easier on your body and your mind.
6. Slower aging
A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that for pessimistic adults 60 and older, problems and mobility declined while performing day-to-day tasks. During this time of the study, people assessed as enjoying life at a medium or low level were about 80% more likely than their happier counterparts to have developed mobility and functional problems.
Mobility and functioning ability naturally decline as we get older, so there’s every reason to delay that onset of aging. It seems that optimism is part of the trick. By maintaining an optimistic outlook, not only will you live longer, but you’ll slow signs of aging. Positivity seems to be a one-stop shop for health!