You have enormous power over your health. True, you cannot control everything — unknown exposure to environmental hazards, unmodifiable genetic predispositions, random encounters with infectious agents or just plain bad luck — but there’s a lot you can do to maximize your health.
One area that you have far more control over than you may imagine is your attitude! Solid science demonstrates that feeling happy and optimistic reduces your risk of everything from heart attack to postsurgery setbacks. A positive attitude also improves your quality of life, even if you are diagnosed with something as serious as cancer, and promotes resilience, which helps you rebound if you do become sick.
One study looked at the outcomes of wound healing after hip and knee replacements, hernia surgery and a procedure to correct varicose veins. Patients with moderate anxiety and depression were about 1.2 times more likely to have wound complications than more upbeat folks, and they were 1.2 times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital to deal with wound complications.
Optimists also fare much better in studies looking at heart disease, heart attack and stroke. A positive attitude correlates with healthier blood pressure levels: In a Finnish study, pessimists were three times more likely to develop high blood pressure than more optimistic folks. An American study found that the more positive the participants’ outlook, the lower their blood pressure.
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Optimists are 50 percent less likely to have heart attack or stroke, and have better scores for blood lipids. And they’re half as likely to require rehospitalization after coronary bypass surgery. Among patients getting angioplasty, another study found that pessimists were three times more likely than optimists to have heart attacks or require repeat angioplasties or bypass operations.
The journal Circulation published a study that found, compared with pessimistic women, optimistic women had a 9 percent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 14 percent lower risk of dying from any cause after more than eight years of follow-up.
There’s more: A 2006 study found that a more positive outlook was protective against respiratory infections. A Mayo Clinic study found that people who have high anxiety have a moderately increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease decades later — so do pessimists.
Why does attitude affect your health? Chronic pessimism dings the immune system and changes hormones levels throughout the body. In contrast, folks with a positive outlook have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and epinephrine, a healthier heart rate and blood pressure, and reduced inflammation, which is a big health hazard.
So, how can you improve your outlook? If your glass is rarely half full, there are easy-to-adopt habits that will raise your spirits and improve your attitude. (If you suffer from serious bouts of depression or anxiety, try these steps and consult a therapist who can help you resolve or modify such problems.)
1. Cut the Clutter. Research shows that cleaning up small messes, like the bills on your desk or making the bed daily, contributes to happiness because they represent “small wins” for your willpower.
2. Cultivate Gratitude. Regular expressions of gratitude promote optimism, better health and greater satisfaction with life. Take time to count your blessings. Try spending just one minute every morning thinking about the good things in your life. And do like Dr. Mike does: Write three thank-you notes every evening.
3. Consciously Look on the Sunny Side. Irritated that you have to stop at the grocery store on your way home from work? Focus on how lucky you are to be able to make a healthy, home-cooked meal.
4. Change your Wiring. Did you know that laughing — even for no reason at all — makes you happier? And listening to music that features a fast tempo and is written in a major key can cause immediate physical signs of happiness, such as a faster breathing.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.