Thoughts are powerful. When they become actions, of course, they can change the world. But even when we keep them inside our own heads, they can affect not only the way we see the world but our very health and well-being.
A new study on attitudes toward aging gives a powerful reminder of this.
Researchers had more than 4000 participants from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging complete a series of three tests of their perception of aging, cognitive ability and level of frailty. Those with a negative attitude toward aging proved to have worse physical and cognitive health than those with a positive outlook.
This was the case even after medications, mood, life circumstances and other health changes during the two year study period were accounted for.
“Furthermore,” according to the Trinity College Dublin press release on the study,
negative attitudes towards ageing seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted. Frail older adults are at risk of multiple health problems including worse cognition. In the TILDA sample frail participants with negative attitudes towards ageing had worse cognition compared to participants who were not frail. However frail participants with positive attitudes towards ageing had the same level of cognitive ability as their non-frail peers.
But it’s not just older folks whose health is affected by their outlook. It’s all of us. According to the Mayo Clinic, research has found a number of health benefits to positive thinking. These include
- Increased life span.
- Lower rates of depression.
- Lower levels of distress.
- Greater resistance to the common cold.
- Better psychological and physical well-being.
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.
On the flipside, negativity tends to generate a host of physical problems including muscle pain and tension, headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems. It can prime the proverbial pump for anxiety, depression, mood changes, and lack of focus. It can motivate behaviors like substance abuse and social withdrawal.
So is cultivating a positive attitude a guarantee of good health and a long life? Of course not. But what the research does suggest is that if you do get sick, a positive outlook can help you be more resilient through your healing.
Attitude, as they say, is everything.