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How your Attitudes Can Affect Your Health

20 Sep

From the Harvard Women’s Health Watch

How your Attitudes Affect your Health Do you look forward to the next week? Do you feel younger than your age? Do you have a sense of purpose? If so, you may already have done something to reduce your risk of degenerative diseases and may even be adding years to your life.

“Your outlook—having a sense of optimism and purpose—seems to be predictive of health outcomes,” says Dr. Laura Kubzansky, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Kubzansky has studied the health effects of several forms of psychological well-being. She has found that emotional vitality—characterized by enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance—is associated with a substantially reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.

The benefit of emotional vitality

Dr. Kubzansky and her colleagues have analyzed data on emotional vitality and health outcomes from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES)—an ongoing national investigation that includes both personal interviews and medical exams.

In 2007 her team reported that among 6,025 participants, those who had high levels of emotional vitality at the onset had significantly lower rates of cardiovascular disease an average of 15 years later. In 2015 they reported that among 6,019 participants studied for an average of 16 years, greater emotional vitality was associated with a lower likelihood of having a stroke.

Other studies have indicated that people who retain emotional vitality during chronic illness and disability also do better. The Women’s Health and Aging Study involves more than 1,000 women 65 or older who have varying levels of disability but still live on their own. In that group, women with greater emotional vitality performed significantly better than their less-positive counterparts who had similar levels of disability on two tests designed to measure loss of function—walking speed and the ability to lift at least 10 pounds.

Acquiring emotional vitality

If you’ve had a glass-half-empty view of life for decades, assuming a new, more positive outlook might be challenging. However, the following suggestions may help.

Don’t dwell on your age. A growing body of research indicates that people who say they feel younger than their calendar years tend to live longer. A British study of 6,500 people with an average age of 65 found that those who said they felt older than their age had a 41% greater risk of dying in the next eight years compared with people who felt younger than their actual age. And when you do think about aging, valuing the positive aspects, like wisdom, experience, and emotional maturity, may add years to your life. In 2000 a team of researchers analyzed data from the Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement. They found that men and women who had expressed positive views of aging 23 years earlier had lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with negative attitudes.

Focus on what is most important. Quite a bit of research has determined that this focus improves with age, Dr. Kubzansky says. With experience, we become much better able to winnow out the issues that demand our attention from those that may just be minor annoyances. The next time you fret over a perceived slight or a delayed flight, it may help to view the situation through the perspective of your entire life’s experience.

Practice mindfulness. Increasing evidence indicates that regularly practicing mindfulness—focusing on the moment and accepting your thoughts and feelings nonjudgmentally—has a host of psychological benefits, from quelling anxiety to aiding weight loss. In the short term, it can keep you from returning to negative thoughts.

Keep a sense of purpose. You may feel that you’re at the top of your game just as you are forced to retire. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept the notion that you aren’t as capable as you once were. Instead, you can view this important life change as an opportunity to start a business; take up a sport, language, or musical instrument; or plunge into volunteer activities. Doing so could open new horizons.

References: How your attitudes affect your health. (2016). Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 23(9), 1.

Related Online Continuing Education Courses

In the Zone: Finding Flow Through Positive Psychology is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that offers a how-to guide on incorporating flow into everyday life. According to the CDC, four out of ten people have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Further, the APA reports that most people suffer from moderate to high levels of stress, and according to SAMSHA, adult prescription medication abuse (primarily to counteract attention deficit disorders) is one of the most concerning health problems today. And while clinicians now have a host of resources to mitigate distress and reduce symptomatology, the question remains: how do clinicians move clients beyond baseline levels of functioning to a state of fulfillment imbued with a satisfying life purpose? The answer may lie in a universal condition with unexpected benefits…This course will explore the concept of flow, also known as optimal performance, which is a condition we are all capable of, yet seldom cultivate.

What is aging? Can we live long and live well—and are they the same thing? Is aging in our genes? How does our metabolism relate to aging? Can your immune system still defend you as you age? Since the National Institute on Aging was established in 1974, scientists asking just such questions have learned a great deal about the processes associated with the biology of aging. Technology today supports research that years ago would have seemed possible only in a science fiction novel. This course introduces some key areas of research into the biology of aging. Each area is a part of a larger field of scientific inquiry. You can look at each topic individually, or you can step back to see how they fit together, interwoven to help us better understand aging processes. Research on aging is dynamic, constantly evolving based on new discoveries, and so this course also looks ahead to the future, as today’s research provides the strongest hints of things to come.

Physical inactivity is among the most critical public health concerns in America today. For healthcare professionals, the creation and implementation of sustainable fitness solutions is a relevant cause. This course will help you become familiar with the physical and psychological rewards involved in the activity of running, identify risks and the most common running injuries – along with their symptoms and most probable causes – and describe strategies that can be used in preventing running injuries and developing a healthy individualized running regimen.

Professional Development Resources is a Florida nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) approved to offer continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA): the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; and by the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners. We are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within one week of completion.

 

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