Health & Fitness

Optimism May Save Your Health

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Nothing gets a pessimist grumpier than being told to look on the bright side, but…if you’re a pessimist, look on the bright side—it’s good for you!

A recent study carried out by researchers at Concordia University found a plus side to looking on the plus side: optimists’ cortisol levels stay more stable in the face of stressful moments than the cortisol levels of pessimists. “Who cares?” grumble pessimists. Well, cortisol helps with everything from your immune function to blood pressure regulation to insulin release, so keeping it stable is important.

Even occasional, small increases in cortisol levels can be good for you—it’s your body’s “fight or flight” response to stress that can help give you a burst of increase immunity, lower your sensitivity to pain, and give you a quick burst of energy for survival (hence its “fight or flight” connection).

But when it’s too high for too long a time, like it was found to be in glass-half-empty types, you’ll get the crappy effects of cortisol: increased abdominal fat, impaired cognitive performance, higher blood pressure, lowered immunity, and decreased bone tissue and muscle mass.

Basically making optimists as a whole slimmer, smarter, fitter, and less likely to get sick than pessimists. Factor in how many times those “stressful moments” the researchers looked at pop up through the average week (everything from getting stuck in traffic to a meeting at work to going to the mall on the busy day can spike cortisol) and it’s easy to see how important it is to keep the glass half-full.

The study, published in the journal Health Psychology, was small—135 people were asked about their daily stress and had their cortisol checked five times a day for 12 days over a six-year period. But the results do back up a lot of studies over previous years linking psychological well-being (including optimism) with physical health. One 2012 scientific review linked it with fewer heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular issues. A 2010 study found that when optimism drops, so does your immune response. And a study of over 200 centenarians found that most were optimists.

So are you just doomed if you’re a natural-born pessimist? You’d like to think so, wouldn’t you, pessimists? Actually, looking on the bright side is easier than you may think. Research has shown pessimists can become optimists through things like meditation, surrounding yourself with positive people, and even just smiling more (it releases serotonin, the happy hormone).

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