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Vail Daily column: Optimism is good for you

Judson Haims

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

I grew up seeing optimism change the lives of a dear family friend and the lives of her husband, children and all who knew her. My mother’s best friend developed a rare form of cancer that doctors thought would take her life within six months. This lady who my brothers and I grew up calling “Auntie” had a never-give-up attitude that helped her survive nearly 13 years of life. She rarely, if ever, complained — to anyone. When asked how chemo was going or about how any of her many treatments were going, she always responded with a positive statement. 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.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF BEING OPTIMISTIC

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 co-author 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.”

A BIOLOGICAL RESPONSE

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,” said neurologist Larry Goldstein, M.D., director of the Duke University Stroke Center.

The study noted above covered 22,000 Americans age of 50 and older, 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 percent 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, 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 body’s reactions — the stress we encounter each day.

The “glass is half full” philosophy of life can have profound effects on your life. So please: Eat well, exercise more and treat your body well — and it will treat you well for many more years to come!

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.


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