The Province

Be­ing more op­ti­mistic is good for your health

- Mehmet Oz, M.D. and Mike Roizen, M.D.

You have enor­mous power over your health. True, you can­not con­trol ev­ery­thing — un­known ex­po­sure to en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards, un­mod­i­fi­able ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tions 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 post-surgery 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 post-surgery 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.

Op­ti­mists are 50 per cent 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 per cent lower risk of de­vel­op­ing heart dis­ease and a 14 per cent lower risk of dy­ing from any cause af­ter more than eight years of fol­lowup.

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.)

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.

Cul­ti­vate Grat­i­tude. Reg­u­lar ex­pres­sions of grat­i­tude pro­mote op­ti­mism, bet­ter health and 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.

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.

Change your Wiring. Did you know that laugh­ing 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.

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