Ever wondered what the secret is to staying young? Well, according to health studies on US nurses and veterans, a change of perspective might be just what you need. The research seemed to determine that those with a more optimistic outlook on life increased their overall life expectancy by 11-15%. These participants were likelier to live to the age of 85 than pessimistic people.
The studies carried out were designed to examine two demographics’ overall health. A total of 70,000 female nurses and 1,500 male veterans were selected for the study. They were required to answer a series of questions regarding their diet and exercise habits and whether they smoked and consumed alcohol. The participants were also measured on their levels of optimism. This relatively new theory proposes that “positive psychosocial factors” have the potential to enable healthy ageing.
The most significant link positivity has with being healthy is reduced stress levels. It is understood that those with a more optimistic outlook about the outcome of the events in their life will greatly minimise their body’s stress levels. Professor Bruce Hood, chair of developmental psychology at the University of Bristol, states: “Stress impacts on the immune system […] a number of studies have also linked stress with shorter telomeres, a chromosome component that’s been associated with cellular ageing”. This can lead us to believe that lower stress levels in the body could mean better health prospects.
Stress is the body’s natural response to a perceived threat. It can be triggered by any fear, from walking down a dark alley at night to speaking in front of a room full of people. The stress signal is created in the hypothalamus at the base of the brain. The body’s response is to release hormones from the adrenal glands immediately. These are the ‘stress’ hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. They work to protect you by elevating blood pressure and heart rate and boosting energy levels so you can run away quickly or fight off a potential threat.
As we have evolved, daily life and activities include more of these stressors than ever, and they are constant. Long-term activation of the body’s stress response is detrimental to its health. Excessive exposure to cortisol can increase the risk of health conditions such as anxiety, depression, digestive issues, heart disease, weight gain, and cancer. Learning to cope with stress healthily is the key to reducing your risk of stress-related illness.
There is some evidence to back up the theory that optimism promotes good health. A study conducted in 2013 by researchers at Concordia University determined that an optimistic mindset provides the body with a better biological response to stress. It has long been understood that having a positive attitude can alter how you experience everyday life. Still, it would seem that it also benefits the body’s physical and mental health. The study found that pessimists had a higher stress baseline and had more trouble regulating their sympathetic nervous system when experiencing stressful situations.
Stress is actually beneficial to the body as it drives us to get up and do things. Still, elevated cortisol levels for prolonged periods will eventually take their toll. Ultimately, having a more positive outlook on life can help you better manage inevitably stressful situations and keep your cortisol levels at a healthy baseline. There are, of course, many different aspects that contribute to someone’s overall health. While maintaining optimism, a nutritious diet, moderate exercise, and reducing external stressors will significantly benefit the body and work to increase life expectancy.
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