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Happy, Healthy and Wise

April 25, 2012 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Happiness seems like it has little to do with the modern health care system. But, in medicine, as in life, appearances can be deceiving. Statistics reveal that people who have a positive outlook are more likely to be in better physical health. Now, some theorize that happy people are healthier because they take better care of themselves. Simply put, they have more of a reason to want to live longer. There’s certainly some truth to that assertion. However, recent developments in the field of psychology explain that the link between contentment and wellness may very well be a two way street.

Men and women who score highly on tests pertaining to psychological well-being are more likely to have healthier blood test results as well. Current research reports that markers associated with chronic disease such as inflammatory proteins, triglycerides and waist circumference are lower in happier individuals. Scientific reviews have likewise concluded that those with a more optimistic outlook demonstrate decreased mortality rates from various causes ranging from heart disease to kidney failure. However, there’s more to the happy-health picture than just that. An intriguing study from the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Personality determined that participants with “positive affect” reacted to stressful circumstances in a healthier manner than those with negative affect. Specifically, those possessing negative affect produced larger amounts of substances associated with poor health outcomes (cortisol, fibrinogen and interleukin-6) than the happier study volunteers. This indicates that a sunnier disposition protects the body against both immediate and long term challenges and threats we all face in life.

The above information is only of value if there’s a pragmatic way of attaining greater happiness. Fortunately, science has a few suggestions about how we can access more of it. The key is to practice, much like a form of physical exercise, two strategies every single day. The first is to express more optimism. The second concept is to frequently convey gratitude. Both can be done as part of a journaling protocol and/or by sharing verbally with family and friends. An added tip, direct from the medical literature, is to remind yourself why you’re taking the time to express gratitude and optimism. You want more happiness in your life. And, as your capacity to experience joy increases, so too will your capacity to get well and stay well.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Distinctive Biological Correlates of Positive Psychological Well-Being(link)

Study 2 - Positive Affect and Psychobiological Processes Relevant to Health (link)

Study 3 - Positive Psychological Well-Being and Mortality: A Quantitative (link)

Study 4 - A Longitudinal Experimental Study Comparing the Effectiveness(link)

Study 5 - Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way: An Experimental (link)

Negative and Positive Affect Impact Fibrinogen Production

Source: J Pers. 2009 December; 77(6): 1747–1776. (link)

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2 Comments & Updates to “Happy, Healthy and Wise”

  1. JP Says:

    Update: 4/13/15

    http://hpq.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/02/27/1359105315572455.abstract

    J Health Psychol. 2015 Mar 2.

    The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep.

    This randomised controlled experiment tested whether a brief subjective well-being intervention would have favourable effects on cardiovascular and neuroendocrine function and on sleep. We compared 2 weeks of a gratitude intervention with an active control (everyday events reporting) and no treatment conditions in 119 young women. The treatment elicited increases in hedonic well-being, optimism and sleep quality along with decreases in diastolic blood pressure. Improvements in subjective well-being were correlated with increased sleep quality and reductions in blood pressure, but there were no relationships with cortisol. This brief intervention suggests that subjective well-being may contribute towards lower morbidity and mortality through healthier biological function and restorative health behaviours.

    Be well!

    JP

  2. JP Says:

    Updated 11/27/18:

    https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/108/5/1069/5201459

    Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;108(5):1069-1091.

    Dietary intake and blood concentrations of antioxidants and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.

    Background: High dietary intake or blood concentrations (as biomarkers of dietary intake) of vitamin C, carotenoids, and vitamin E have been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality, but these associations have not been systematically assessed.

    Objective: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies of dietary intake and blood concentrations of vitamin C, carotenoids, and vitamin E in relation to these outcomes.

    Design: We searched PubMed and Embase up to 14 February 2018. Summary RRs and 95% CIs were calculated with the use of random-effects models.

    Results: Sixty-nine prospective studies (99 publications) were included. The summary RR per 100-mg/d increment of dietary vitamin C intake was 0.88 (95% CI: 0.79, 0.98, I2 = 65%, n = 11) for coronary heart disease, 0.92 (95% CI: 0.87, 0.98, I2 = 68%, n = 12) for stroke, 0.89 (95% CI: 0.85, 0.94, I2 = 27%, n = 10) for cardiovascular disease, 0.93 (95% CI: 0.87, 0.99, I2 = 46%, n = 8) for total cancer, and 0.89 (95% CI: 0.85, 0.94, I2 = 80%, n = 14) for all-cause mortality. Corresponding RRs per 50-μmol/L increase in blood concentrations of vitamin C were 0.74 (95% CI: 0.65, 0.83, I2 = 0%, n = 4), 0.70 (95% CI: 0.61, 0.81, I2 = 0%, n = 4), 0.76 (95% CI: 0.65, 0.87, I2 = 56%, n = 6), 0.74 (95% CI: 0.66, 0.82, I2 = 0%, n = 5), and 0.72 (95% CI: 0.66, 0.79, I2 = 0%, n = 8). Dietary intake and/or blood concentrations of carotenoids (total, β-carotene, α-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, lycopene) and α-tocopherol, but not dietary vitamin E, were similarly inversely associated with coronary heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and/or all-cause mortality.

    Conclusions: Higher dietary intake and/or blood concentrations of vitamin C, carotenoids, and α-tocopherol (as markers of fruit and vegetable intake) were associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and all-cause mortality. These results support recommendations to increase fruit and vegetable intake, but not antioxidant supplement use, for chronic disease prevention.

    Be well!

    JP

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