Kathleen Tracy | HealthGreatness
It’s been long known that a regular exercise regimen, such as aerobic and weight training, keeps our bodies fit and can add years to our lives. Now a number of studies suggest that training our brains can also help us live longer.
For example, optimists live longer than their pessimistic, glass-half-empty counterparts. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative, a 15-year study of more than 100,000 women concluded the cheerier participants were 14 percent less likely to die that sullen Sallies. A similar study at Mayo Clinic determined on average, being optimistic can add more than seven years to your life.
Washington, DC psychologist Andrea Bonior says the value of training the brain to be happier is basic science: too much of the stress hormone cortisol may lead to chronic pain, depression, inability to think clearly, and heart problems all of which can potentially shortening your life—as well as making you a Gloomy Gus.
If you are a naturally pessimistic-leaning person, you can train your brain to be optimistic in a matter of weeks through some simple daily exercises, including:
• Practice visualizing happy events or moments. Bonior explains, “Imagining yourself in a hammock on the beach can have an immediate, relaxing effect on the body that makes it more difficult to stay focused on the negative.”
• If you feel stressed or overwhelmed, skip the energy drink and take a nap. A study conducted at Allegheny College found that a 45-minute nap can lower blood pressure. Plus, lack of adequate sleep is a serious, ubiquitous problem among Americans and chronic sleep deprivation can cause aging at the cellular. So taking a nap refreshes the mind and the body.
• Some people have found their inner optimist using brainwave entertainment, which uses sound to synchronize brainwaves with a desired frequency. Think of it as biofeed back 2.0. Proponents say using brainwave entertainment to elicit Alpha waves, the brain frequency associated with relaxation, will replace stress and pessimism with repose and optimism.
• For the less gadget-mined, listening to music can also induce the brain to relax. Music therapy is a growing field of health care used to help with pain management, alleviate depression, and ease stress.
• Meditation has been around thousands of years and for good reason. Using slow, rhythmic breathing and relaxation techniques, the brain is nudged into the alpha level where meditation works best. In many ways, meditation is the ultimate power of suggestion: if our brains imagine it to be vividly enough, our body will follow suit. We can eliminate negative thoughts and replace them with a positive, optimistic outlook.
Studies also suggest that an active brain is a happy brain so we should never stop learning or challenging our brains. Brain fitness is essential healthful aging and longevity. Several studies have shown that those who are more educated enjoy better mental functioning and are less likely to develop dementia as they age. This does not mean you have to go back to college, although that is a great option. Learning simply means exposing the brain to new experiences, such as the following:
• Tackle some DIY projects. Picking up new skills to retile your bathroom or install a wood laminate floor in your home office will challenge your mind.
• Volunteer. Many non-profits don’t care if you have no experience; they just need willing bodies. So here you can combine training your brain with helping your
• Learn a new activity or sport such as darts, pool, or poker.
• Take music lessons. It’s never too late to learn to play the piano or guitar.
• Play games and do puzzles.
Training your brain to be optimistic and stay sharp will not only help you live longer, it will also help you live better.