Hints, Tips & Advice

Optimism and Strokes

If we asked most people on the street if thinking positively generally will help improve their health, I believe many would agree. We have all heard the incredible stories of how individuals diagnosed with fatal illnesses flatly refused to give up hope of recovery – and, to the sheer amazement of many (including their doctors), they ultimately recover from that particular illness.

Case in point, at this year’s Visiting Angels Annual Conference, the topic of one of the Keynote speakers was to illustrate how that “never give up” attitude helped her husband survive nearly 32 years of life while strapped with ALS, a disease that normally kills the victim within 1-2 yrs. This is just one example of how a positive attitude can be the most incredible tool to a healthier life.

One could argue that a positive attitude and optimism are significantly different, yet both approaches can be learned and the results on one’s life can be worth the effort.

Let’s assume that being optimistic is the “expectation that more good than bad will come your way in the future.” From the researchers at the University of Michigan, Department of Psychology, in their long-running Health and Retirement Study, 2006-2008, the coauthor of the study, Nansook Park, notes, “optimism may protect people because those with a positive outlook make better choices such as eating well and exercising. Optimistic people act in healthier ways.”

We all know that depression in people can lead to biologically negative effects such as high blood pressure, chronic illness, etc. Eric Kim, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, states, “Another possibility is a biological effect. In a similar way that depression can impact functioning, we think optimism can as well.”

And this isn’t limited to one person or one specific study. “We know from many other studies that patients’ attitudes can be incredibly powerful. I’m not at all surprised that being optimistic is associated with health benefits,” states neurologist Larry Goldstein, M.D., director of the Duke University Stroke Center.

The study noted above covered 22,000 Americans over the age of 50, with 6,044 adults being the main focus. Using a modified Life Orientation Test (with some modifications), it was found that “with every point increased in optimism there was a 9% decrease in acute stroke risk over the two-year period (2006-2008). It should be clearly noted that the study did not prove that being optimistic “causes lower stroke risk, simply that the two are associated.”

In our ever increasingly stressful world (would anyone doubt that), it is important to bring to the forefront any and all means to improving our overall health, which in turn allows each of us to better deal with --  at least through our bodies reactions -- the stress we encounter daily.

So please: eat well, exercise more, and treat your body well – and it will treat you well for many more years to come!

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