Drs. Oz & Roizen: Positive outlook boosts health

December 1, 2013 

What’s something that feels amazing, is contagious and actually could save your life? Realistic optimism.

Here are some benefits that come from feeling more hopeful and less stressed:

• A healthier ticker. Even if you’re at high risk for heart disease, living with a sense of hope and well-being can lower your odds for heart disease by 30 percent to 50 percent. If you’ve already had a heart attack, optimism can help you stay on track with exercise and lower your odds for dying within five years after a cardiac event by 40 percent.

• Better blood fats. Optimism nudged levels of healthy HDL cholesterol upward and pushed levels of heart-threatening triglycerides down, according to a new report. Highly optimistic people had HDLs four points higher than gloomier folks — enough to reduce their heart disease risk 12 percent.

• Improved decision-making. Optimism enhances your ability to make good decisions under stress, a skill that can help you say “no, thanks” to a coffee-break doughnut on a tough day at work and “yes” to exercise (rather than chips, the couch and the TV remote) when you’re tense.

• Stronger immunity. A bright outlook boosts an important defense against disease called “cell-mediated immunity.” This part of your immune system controls your body’s ability to fight invading bacteria and viruses, and helps battle some cancer cells.

• Stroke protection. A hopeful outlook can cut your risk of a life-threatening, mind-damaging “brain attack” by 10 percent or more. Why? Because positive people are more likely to get exercise and eat healthfully, sleep better and feel less stressed. But it may be something more than that. Optimism all by itself bolsters health in ways that remain mysterious.

• A longer life and younger RealAge. A healthy old age isn’t just a result of good genes. New data show that North America’s longest-living citizens share a zest for life — they’re easygoing, upbeat and social.

If you’re ready to gain those benefits, here are a few steps that can help you over to the sunny side:

• Think loving thoughts. A short “loving kindness” meditation (you focus on feelings of love and compassion for yourself and others) increases optimism and makes you feel more connected to those around you; spending time with friends is another important mood booster.

• Feeling good? Go deeper. People who pay attention to and enhance their positive emotions are more able to overcome tough times. Try noticing when you feel playful, serene or spiritually uplifted, and then ask yourself how you can heighten that feeling.

• Keep it real. Having unrealistically positive expectations or glossing over problems instead of solving them can backfire, triggering low moods.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

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