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The Power of Positive Thinking

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Are you a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person? The answer could make a difference in your heart health, say Johns Hopkins researchers. Check out their findings—plus simple ways to boost positivity in your life.

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Got Happiness?

Join Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Karen Swartz as she discusses the  roles of personality type and medical illness on happiness, the benefits from happiness, and tips to maximize it. 


The discussion is part of an all-day conference, A Woman's Journey, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 at the Hilton in Baltimore.


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Here’s heartwarming news: People with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.

That’s the finding from Johns Hopkins expert Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H., and her colleagues. The finding held even in people with family history who had the most risk factors for coronary artery disease, and positive people from the general population were 13 percent less likely than their negative counterparts to have a heart attack or other coronary event.

Yanek and her team determined “positive” versus “negative” outlook using a survey tool that assesses a person’s cheerfulness, energy level, anxiety levels and satisfaction with health and overall life. But you don’t need a survey to assess your own positivity, says Yanek. “I think people tend to know how they are.”

Hope and Your Heart

The mechanism for the connection between health and positivity remains murky, but researchers suspect that people who are more positive may be better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress. Another possibility is that hope and positivity help people make better health and life decisions and focus more on long-term goals. Studies also find that negative emotions can weaken immune response.  

What is clear, however, is that there is definitely a strong link between “positivity” and health. Additional studies have found that a positive attitude improves outcomes and life satisfaction across a spectrum of conditions—including traumatic brain injury, stroke and brain tumors.

Can You Boost Your Bright Side?

Although a positive personality is something we’re born with and not something we can inherently change, Yanek says, there are steps you can take to improve your outlook and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Simply smile more.

A University of Kansas study found that smiling—even fake smiling—reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. So try a few minutes of YouTube humor therapy when you’re stomping your feet waiting in line or fuming over a work or family situation. It’s difficult not to smile while watching a favorite funny video.  

Practice reframing.

Instead of stressing about a traffic jam, for instance, appreciate the fact that you can afford a car and get to spend a few extra minutes listening to music or the news, accepting that there is absolutely nothing you can do about the traffic.

Build resiliency.

Resiliency is the ability to adapt to stressful and/or negative situations and losses. Experts recommend these key ways to build yours:

  • Maintain good relationships with family and friends.
  • Accept that change is a part of life.
  • Take action on problems rather than just hoping they disappear or waiting for them to resolve themselves. 

Try It

Spend Time With Positive Thinkers

A couples’ study found that both positive thinkers and their partners have greater satisfaction in their relationships than optimist-free pairs. And if you happen to be married to a pessimist, or are on your own? Try socializing with cheery friends and coworkers; research hints that these kinds of relationships with bright-side types can make you feel better too.

Definitions

Cardiovascular (car-dee-oh-vas-cue-ler) disease: Problems of the heart or blood vessels, often caused by atherosclerosis—the build-up of fat deposits in artery walls—and by high blood pressure, which can weaken blood vessels, encourage atherosclerosis and make arteries stiff. Heart valve disorders, heart failure and off-beat heart rhythms (called arrhythmias) are also types of cardiovascular disease.
Immune response: How your immune system recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, toxins and other harmful substances. A response can include anything from coughing and sneezing to an increase in white blood cells, which attack foreign substances.

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