- The advice about living longer that you never hear
- The surprising benefits of optimism – how it can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
- How dopamine can extend your life
Want to live longer?
Well, you’ve heard all the usual advice before.
As almost everyone will tell you, you should exercise regularly, give up smoking, eat a balanced diet and avoid too much alcohol.
Blah blah blah.
These are all important, obviously.
But what’s far less known is that long life is more about your mental attitude.
The surprising benefits of optimism
A Harvard University study of over 70,000 test subjects has shown that an optimistic outlook helps people live 15% longer than those with a pessimistic outlook.
A sunny disposition also helps recovery from serious illness or surgery…
Research has shown that an optimistic outlook can “predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.” [Harvard Men’s Health Watch, 2008]
And in a major long-term study that began in 1975, it was found that a positive mental attitude is more important than ANY other factor when it comes to how long you live.
We hear so much about booze and fats and carbs and cigs, but very little about the power of your brain to control your health.
Now I don’t blame you if you think this sounds outlandish, maybe like some hippy self-help idea…
“Think happy thoughts and everything will be fine.”
But actually, researchers believe that thinking everything will be fine is MORE LIKELY to make things fine, even when it comes physical ailments.
Scientists haven’t yet nailed down precisely why the results are as they are. But they suspect it comes down to stress, too much of which can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Now, you might be a natural born pessimist.
You might think you cannot change who you are at this stage in life.
Maybe not… but you can re-programme your brain to have a more positive attitude.
A couple of ways to do this include:
- Each night, write down three positive things that have happened to you no matter how bad you think your day has been. Focus on those before you sleep.
- Every day, find a quiet place to sit for ten minutes. Allow thoughts to enter your brain but try and observe them rather than getting caught up in them. Write the most pressing worries down, then seek out how to solve them in a practical way. Even the act of writing a solution can help defuse the anxiety.
You should also give yourself rewards that you can look forward to. This could be simply a movie night with ice cream, a date with your loved one, a trip with the family, anything that gives you a tingle of anticipation.
Here’s why this works…
How dopamine can extend your life.
When we carry out an action that gets a rewarding result, we get a fat dose of dopamine.
Dopamine triggers a specific set of brain cells (found by our award-winning scientists), making you feel pleasure and desire for more pleasure.
In turn, this drives you to seek out more reward…
Even just the IDEA of getting a future reward can get that same feel good reaction. In other words, happiness can be the expectation of something as much as the thing itself.
Professor Wolfram Schulz from the University of Cambridge said that individuals who strive for more rewards have a higher chance of survival.
In other words, seeking out natural dopamine kicks can not only make you happier, it’s a survival mechanism that can help you live longer.
Another study in the Journal of Neuroscience found that a certain kind of gene coding for a dopamine receptor in the brain was 66% more common among people who lived to be 90 or older.
The researchers speculated that people who didn’t quite get the same kick of dopamine therefore put more effort into seeking out bigger dopamine rushes, living more active lives.
Which brings me neatly to the final way to re-programme your brain…
How to boost your happiness through your feet
The act of daily walking is as powerful for the brain as it is for your joints, muscles, heart and lungs.
In 2017, researchers at New Mexico Highlands University found that as you walk, the impact of your foot on the ground sends pressure waves through your arteries.
This helps increase the supply of blood to your brain, improving alertness and concentration.
Further back in 2012 a study in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity showed that walking helped ease depression.
Scientists think it’s because walking distracts you from worry, gives you a greater sense of control and releases your body’s natural happiness hormones.
But it’s not just the physical motion that helps you. It’s the stimulating environment around you when you go on a walk. Particularly if you have parkland, woodland, lakes, beaches or rivers near you.
Neuroscientist Dr Andrea Michelli runs a project called Urban Mind, which tracks users’ movements through their mobiles, asking them questions throughout.
She not only found a strong link between exposure to nature and wellbeing but that the psychological benefits of a walk can last for seven hours.
The general guideline is that you should do at least 2-3 hours of moderate exercise a week to keep yourself healthy. However, even a short walk each day will help.
A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has shown that even walking for less than 2 hours per week can deliver:
- 35% lower risk of respiratory disease mortality
- 20% less risk of cardiovascular disease mortality
- 9% less risk of cancer mortality
So even if you can spend ten or twenty minutes per day walking, you can significantly improve your life.
Try some of these tips out this week and let me know how you get on!
Yours, as always,