To be healthier and live longer, you may just need to have a more positive attitude.
There are many factors that may affect your future health and how long you’ll live. Your genes, lifestyle habits (like smoking and exercising) and chronic health conditions (like diabetes or high blood pressure) all factor into how healthy you may be in the future. But what if what you thought played a role, too?
It turns out that your attitude and way of thinking may have a significant impact on your overall health and longevity. If you feel like you’re healthier or are simply more optimistic about your life and your future, you may actually be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Research has found that optimism may affect how long you live. One study found that positive thinking resulted in an 11-15% longer life span and greater odds of living to age 85 or older. These findings were independent of other factors that affect life span, including health conditions, lifestyle behaviors (such as smoking, alcohol use and diet), depression, social integration and socioeconomic status. Participants in the study were in their 60’s and 70’s, but other research suggests that having a positive outlook about aging when you’re young may also affect life expectancy.
Why would a positive outlook impact your health and longevity?
Although there’s not a definitive reason why optimism may play a role in your health or how long you live, here are a few theories as to why it pays to think positively when it comes to your health:
- You’re more proactive about your health. If you have a positive outlook about your future, there’s a good chance you’ll be willing to take steps to be healthier so you can enjoy that future. That may include following healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, not smoking, limiting alcohol, reducing stress and maintaining a healthy weight. It may also mean you’re more likely to see a doctor regularly for preventative appointments and get recommended screenings and vaccinations.
- You’re more resilient to illness. When you are optimistic, you may be more likely to fight harder to beat an illness. This may make you more motivated to follow doctors’ orders and to do what you need to do to heal or improve. Positive thinking may even give your immune system a boost.
- You may be less stressed. People with a positive attitude are often less stressed because they are able to look on the bright side. Chronic stress has been implicated in a number of serious health conditions, so by reducing stress, you’re giving yourself a leg up on a healthier life.
- You’re less likely to be depressed. Optimism is a good defense against sadness, anxiety and depression. When you are depressed, it can negatively affect your physical health in addition to your mental health. Depression may make it harder to sleep, cause your weight to fluctuate, result in more aches and pains (or the perception of more pain), constrict blood vessels (which can affect your heart health) and weaken your immune system. You’re also less likely to take care of your health, such as exercising regularly or seeing a doctor, when you’re feeling down.
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Date Last Reviewed: August 18, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD