Think positive — It's good for your health

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

—Winston Churchill

Our everyday thoughts can affect how we feel and research now shows that Winston Churchill was right—attitude does make a big difference. This week, two new medical studies were released showing the healthy importance of having a positive attitude:

  • A review of research investigating positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular disease will be published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. Among the different aspects of psychological well-being, the authors concluded that "...optimism is most robustly associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events."
  • Researchers from Boston University will publish data from the Multicenter Osteoarthritis (or MOST) Study in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. Knee pain and daily walking distance were evaluated in over 1000 participants with proven knee osteoarthritis. Responses were compared between those with a positive attitude and those with a negative attitude. Knee pain was significantly influenced by attitude and keeping that positive attitude also kept people more functional. Among those reporting knee pain, after adjusting for knee pain severity, participants with a positive attitude walked over 700 steps per day more than those with a negative attitude.

These studies support some earlier studies that likewise reinforce the health benefits of positive thinking. For example, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh published data in the journal Circulation from the large Women's Health Initiative study that followed almost 98,000 healthy postmenopausal women for eight years. Optimistic women experienced the lowest rates of heart disease and death compared with the highest rates for both in cynical, hostile women. For example, optimists were 30 percent less likely to die from heart disease and 14 percent less likely to die from any condition. Even after adjusting for age, as levels of optimism decreased, there was a corresponding increase in the likelihood of developing heart disease or dying from any condition.

These studies support that having a more positive attitude can be an important step toward better health. Migraine treatment takes advantage of the benefits of positive thinking by offering cognitive-behavioral therapy. One component of this treatment is to replace negative, catastrophic thinking with positive thoughts. For example, after a bad migraine day you might think, "I had the worst migraine after spending all day at the mall with my daughter. My migraine ruined the whole day. I'll never try to go shopping with her again." Cognitive-behavioral therapy encourages you to consider how you might have a better experience next time. For example, you might replace the negative thoughts with, "Getting up so early, skipping breakfast, and spending a whole day running from store to store was just too stressful. And I think the hot dogs and colas for lunch might have also triggered my migraine. Next time, I'll suggest we plan to leave after breakfast and only spend an hour shopping. I'll also remember to practice my relaxation and some neck stretches when she's in the fitting rooms."

Obviously, you can't wish away serious health conditions or migraines just by "thinking positive," but the data are convincing that negative thinking is likely to be linked with worse health outcomes. Changing your thinking from negative to positive might make an important difference in your health and how medical problems impact your life.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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