You probably know that diet and exercise are important for your heart health. But did you know that the way you think about life also makes a difference?
It’s true. A growing number of studies show that people who are optimistic (think in positive, hopeful ways, such as seeing a glass half full instead of half empty) have better heart health. For example, in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a 2017 study of 70,021 older women showed that those who had the most positive attitude had a 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 39% lower risk of dying from a stroke than those who thought negatively.
In a 2011 study of almost 8000 people in the United Kingdom, having a sunny outlook was linked to a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, even after the researchers took into account heart risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol. Data involving more than 5000 people had the same result: the more optimistic people were, the lower their risk for heart problems.
The researchers aren’t sure why being optimistic helps heart health. It could be because positive thinking directly improves the way our body works. Or it may be because positive thinking causes people to take better care of themselves. Optimism may also protect against the harmful effects of stress that can lead to inflammation in the heart and blood vessels.
The good news is that even if you don’t naturally think in positive ways, optimism can be learned. Research done with sets of twins who were raised separately shows that only about 24% of optimism and pessimism come from your parents. That means that 76% of your ability to think positive thoughts is in your control.
Negative thinking is often just a bad habit that you can change. Here are some ways to develop a sunnier outlook:
- Practice gratitude.
Counting your blessings helps you have more positive thoughts. Some people keep a notebook and jot down the things they are grateful for. Others say thanks to others as they go about their daily lives.
- Hang out with positive people.
Optimism rubs off. Being around optimists can help you think like they do.
- Review what went right at the end of the day.
What did you enjoy? What made you feel appreciated? This practice can help you have positive thoughts before you sleep, which affects your first thoughts in the morning.
- Turn off the news.
The current climate of politics can make it hard to be optimistic. Being informed is important, but try to limit the amount of time you spend getting news.
- Just smile.
It can change your mood and also helps you connect with others. Plus, smiling can lower your blood pressure and stress hormones, which are also good for your heart.
Learning to think like an optimist takes practice. But it’s well worth it for your heart and well-being!