optimism

  1. Happy people live longer

    It's the attitude adjustment that could save your life: A new study finds that happy people live longer -- which means a smile might turn out to be the cheapest, safest, and easiest longevity-booster on the planet.

    Can you think of any drug or supplement that can slash your risk of a premature death by 35 percent? I can't -- but the study of 3,800 people between the ages of 52 and 79 found that happiness did just that, even after adjusting for age, gender, depression and other health and lifestyle risks.

    All told, just 3.6 percent of the happiest people died during the five-year study -- versus 4.6 percent of those who had average levels of happiness and 7.3 percent of those who were unhappy.

    The volunteers also answered questions about fear, anxiety and worry -- but none of those other attitudes seemed to have any effect on who lived and who died.

    Just happiness -- although it could also be that the very things that make us happy also help us to live longer.

    Married people, for example, live longer... and people who've been married a long time tend to be happier than those who are alone (even if we might joke otherwise).

    Happier people also have a tighter circle of friends -- something that's also known to boost both longevity and happiness.

    On the other hand, attitude alone really can have a direct and measurable impact on health, like a study a couple of years back that found happy people have a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease.

    Another study I told you about over the summer found that an attitude closely linked to happiness -- optimism -- slashed the risk of a stroke.

    And last year, researchers found that the most disagreeable people were more likely to have thicker carotid arteries -- which would explain that increase in stroke risk, not to mention the thick bulging neck veins seen on angry cartoon characters.

    I know changing your attitude is easier said than done -- especially if you have years of experience in the grouch department. But while it's difficult, it's not impossible -- and if you can pull it off, it might just save your life.

  2. Always look on the bright side of life

    If you have trouble finding the silver lining in any cloud, it's time to consider an attitude adjustment -- because it might save your life.

    Your outlook could play a direct role in your stroke risk, with the most negative people facing the most negative outcomes.

    Researchers looked at data on more than 6,044 men and women at least 50 years old with no history of stroke who had taken a standard optimism test.

    I've never seen this exam -- but it's fun trying to imagine the questions:

    You've been bitten by a dog. Do you:

    a) Scream

    b) Shoot the dog

    c) Seek immediate medical attention

    d) Feel lucky that such a spirited dog chose to "play" with you

    In any case, the patients were all given an "optimism score" based on their answers, asked to rate their own health, and then tracked for two years.

    The researchers say just 88 strokes took place in that time, but each point on the optimism scale reduced the risk of having one by about 9 percent -- and that's even after adjusting for risk factors such as smoking, heavy boozing, levels of physical activity, and overall health.

    The researchers say optimism was even able to help limit the damage from known stroke risk factors such as anxiety, depression, and neuroticism.

    The only downside was seen among the most extremely optimistic: The researchers say a small number of people are so positive that they always believe everything will work out no matter what -- and these people are less likely to take the actions needed to help themselves.

    On the flipside, it might be hard or even impossible for some folks -- like, for example, negative people -- to believe that attitude alone can have a direct impact on health.

    But other studies have found real benefits to positivity -- including a stronger immune system and healthier heart.

    Several other studies have even made a similar link between outlook and stroke risk, including one published last year that found the most disagreeable grumps were 40 percent more likely to have thicker carotid arteries than positive people. (Read about it here.)

    That's a major stroke risk factor -- and if you can undo it by smiling a little more and being a little more positive, I'd say that's an attitude adjustment worth making.

    p.s. Other recent studies have shown that olive oil can lower your stroke risk by up to 73 percent, potassium can
    slash it by up to 21 percent, and coffee can reduce the risk in women by up to 25 percent. Be sure to get in on all three.

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