Your brain is considered a small organ (it only weighs about 3 pounds!), but it is one of the most powerful parts of your body. This little organ is responsible for managing your mental health and processing, including positive thinking and a positive attitude. And, believe it or not, there really is power in positive thinking — it’s not just something you’ll read on a Hallmark card. In fact, there are actually scientific reasons positivity impacts your health. You read that right: implementing positivity into your everyday life can improve overall health in many ways.
On the flip side, poor mental health can negatively impact your physical health. It’s been found to be linked to poor sleep and sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia, an increased risk of heart disease, a trigger for asthma, and an increased risk for diabetes. While managing your mental health can involve strategies like self-care, better nutrition, medication, or professional help, simply thinking positively is a small step you can take to improve your overall well-being.
Ready to implement the power of positive thinking into your life and become a glass-half-full type of person? Here are six science-backed ways having a positive attitude can boost your health.
A 2016 study on people with generalized anxiety disorder found that those who practiced different positive-thinking interventions during episodes of worry (by generating positive mental images and positive verbal descriptions of outcomes they were worried about) reported less worry and anxiety. The study found that by replacing worried thoughts with positive thinking, participants also reported an increase in their feelings of optimism. Feeling worried about a situation? Try thinking about it with a positive outcome. If you’re feeling ambitious, go one step further and write it down in a journal.
Having a positive attitude may help keep your memory strong. A 2020 study found that U.S. adults over a nine-year period who reported feeling enthusiastic and cheerful — what psychologists call “positive affect” — were less likely to experience memory decline as they aged. Participants who reported emotions like enthusiasm, pride, joy and feelings of calm and peace reported a slowed rate of memory decline as they aged over the course of the study.
A September 2018 review found that high levels of optimism and maintaining positive thoughts and feelings may lead to a better diet, regular exercise, and lower stress — all of which can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. Researchers also found that optimistic patients were less likely to be current smokers, had regular physical activity, sustained healthier diets by consuming more fruits and vegetables (and also ate less processed meats and sweets), which led to maintaining healthy BMIs. Another January 2017 study of over 70,000 older women found those who had the most positive attitudes had a 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 39% lower risk of dying from a stroke compared to participants with negative thinking.
Don’t let the small stuff get you down! An April 2021 study on brain activity found that people who held onto negative feelings for fewer seconds that were triggered by negative situations (such as dropping a cup of coffee) were more likely to report fewer negative emotions in their daily lives. Researchers found that those who dropped a cup of coffee and let it go, rather than let it ruin their day, were more prone to develop a more enduring and persevering overall well-being. So next time something bad happens, the quicker you’re able to let it go and release negative thoughts, the better for your mental health.
Having a positive outlook on aging and the aging process may also help you live longer. A March 2018 study on participants aged 50 and older found that those who had positive self-perceptions of aging reported lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of cumulative stress-related inflammation (i.e. longer survival and a longer life). A second November 2018 study, done over 35 years, reported similar findings; participants with a poor mental attitude showed a modest increased risk of death compared to those with a positive mental attitude.
A January 2018 study on brain scans of children found that those who had a positive attitude towards math, even if they didn’t like it or found it challenging, reported a more active hippocampus (the area of the brain linked with learning and memory) while doing basic math problems. They concluded a good attitude could lead to a more active and engaged brain, leading to higher achievement. So when you’re up against an activity you know you don’t like, instead of staying negative, think positively about it for a better outcome.
About the author
Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men's Health and Prevention magazines, and she is currently a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, weight loss, and fitness. Her work has been published in digital and print formats for Women’s Health, Runner’s World, SELF, Health and more. She is based in Pennsylvania and loves all things antiques, music, and American history.
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