Did you know that having a positive mental attitude can protect your health and heart?
We are constantly exposed to numerous stresses and strains in life – be it in our personal lives or professional lives, even our love lives. Maintaining good health is important to be able to manage these stresses.
In our post on how stress can affect the heart, we saw how constant stress and strain can affect the heart and the blood pressure.
Conversely, there is sufficient evidence to confirm that keeping a positive mental attitude can improve the function of your heart.
What is a positive mental attitude?
A positive mental attitude is in essence a state of mind. It is a concept that was initially mentioned and discussed by Napoleon Hill in his landmark book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ – a book you most certainly must read.
It is basically a principle that must be followed to experience all that is good in life. It has been defined as ‘the ‘plus’ characteristics symbolized by such words as faith, integrity, hope, optimism, courage, initiative, generosity, tolerance, tact, kindliness and good common sense.” Keeping a positive mental attitude (or PMA) is believed to attract success, enhance living and increase achievement. It is all about reaching the outcome you want in the way you wish to achieve it.
In the world of sport, a PMA can greatly enhance performance by increasing the mental toughness of players, improving their confidence, their belief that they can win and their ability to handle failure.
The link between positive mental attitude and the health
The link between a positive mental attitude and health has been explored greatly in different contexts. Researchers and science buffs have looked at not just heart disease, but also things like how long you will live if you are optimistic.
While many might think that having a positive attitude towards various situations is actually ridiculous in times of ill health, the scientific evidence appears to differ. Let’s take a look at some of the positive aspects of staying optimistic.
Positive attitudes build stronger hearts
In a recent study led by Professor Andrew Steptoe (UCL, London) that assessed the effect of positive mental attitude on the heart, it was found that those who stayed positive following a heart attack had a lower chance of developing heart attacks in the future. To paraphrase, a positive outlook builds a stronger heart.
The effects can of course be due to other factors. For example those with a positive outlook following a heart attack may begin to adopt healthier lifestyle choices. Some may increase the amount of exercise they do while some completely give up smoking. In fact, those with a negative attitude continued to smoke, while 85% of those who had a positive attitude stopped.
The consumption of fruit and vegetables also increased in those who had a positive attitude.
But this finding is not new.
In the year 2000, researchers at the Mayo Clinic USA found that those with a pessimistic attitude increased their chances of dying early by nearly 19%. Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that those with a positive outlook had a lower risk of heart disease. Similarly, the University of Pittsburgh found that women with an optimistic attitude had lesser thickening of the carotid artery walls (walls of the arteries of the neck).
A study conducted by Dr Eric Kim and colleagues showed that higher optimism levels were directly linked to lower rates of heart failure (i.e. weakening of the heart muscle)
In a nutshell, the available evidence suggests that the more positive you are, the stronger your heart will be.
Being optimistic could improve your cholesterol
In a study looking at 990 subjects in their ‘midlife’, self reported optimism was associated with lower triglyceride levels and higher HDL (good cholesterol) levels. There did not seem to be an effect on bad cholesterol and total cholesterol levels.
It is a well studied and recognised fact that high levels of good cholesterol can decrease your chances of developing heart attacks and strokes.
Being optimistic seems to be a simple way to do that, isn’t it?
Want a stronger immune system? Be positive and you can!
Research in law students found that those who had a positive attitude regarding themselves and their surrounding environments were less likely to suffer from an infection. The reason behind this was believed to be a stronger immune system that was stimulated by a positive mind frame.
This just might be a great way to beat the common cold!
Stay positive, live longer
We all wish to live long and fruitful lives. However, there are numerous factors including our diet, lifestyle, surrounding environment and exercise levels that can affect how long we live.
As a general rule, it has been shown that those who have a positive outlook towards life tend to lead a fuller, more satisfied life.
But that’s not all.
Those with an optimistic disposition at 50% more likely to live longer, and this finding was demonstrated in a 9 year follow up study.
Where it may not work
While a PMA can help with many illnesses and overall health, it does not necessarily benefit all.
Take patients with cancer for example. Being positive during times of diagnosis and treatment can be quite comforting, but studies have shown that it really does not affect how the cancer grows and how long you live.
In other words, a positive attitude does not improve survival in cancer patients.
You may have heard of stories where people have ‘battled cancer’ and won over it through keeping a strong mind and strong heart. While this attitude is a good one to keep undergoing therapy even when it does not work early on, by itself it does have any real benefit.
This would translate that it is not really possible to overcome cancer through the power of the mind alone – one would also need medical therapy to accompany it. Being positive can reduce the chances of developing depression, which is a common accompanying problem in patients with cancer.
Stay positive, and you could look forward to a long and healthy life ahead.
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