There is evidence to suggest that, while the key to better health may not be "all in your head," there is an important correlation between how we feel and what we think.
Optimists, one long-term scientific study of adults up to the age of 85 has discovered, have better overall health scores than those with a more pessimistic outlook. The surprising results seem to bear out the conclusion that living well after retirement really does depend on your attitude.
In the LS7 Study—which also measured blood pressure, body mass index, dietary intake, physical activity blood glucose and cholesterol levels and smoking habits— researchers followed more than 5000 participants ranging in age from 45 to 84 over the course of 11 years. At the end of the study, scientists determined that those who were the most optimistic, across all socio-demographic categories, also had the highest overall health scores— a finding that may have clinical significance when translated into a reduction of death rates due to heart problems.
This is a result that bodes well for the America Heart Association's goal of improving American cardiovascular health 20% by the year 2020.
Get Physical, Positively
Other than looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, what can seniors do to maintain their mobility and overall health well into their 80s? There are some specific steps to take, both literally and figuratively, say the experts.
Stepping out, in the form of maintaining a regular exercise schedule, is one of the best ways to encourage heart health. There is thought to be a significant bio-behavioral mechanism that can trigger changes in overall wellbeing— the mind-body connection works in both directions, say psychologists and personal trainers alike.
University of British Columbia studies, for example, have shown that random acts of kindness have a marked physical effect, making socially-anxious people happier over time. It's a habit that, begun in childhood, creates an emotional warmth that can lead to both physical well-being and emotional fulfillment, according to the research.
No less an authority than the Mayo Clinic confirms that better physical conditioning can reduce stress and improve mood. The best news is that to reap the benefits no major changes are needed. Even moderate increase in physical activity, including doing the things you love doing, combined with a positive attitude and a smile, can increase your overall health. The release of "feel-good" endorphins and the focus on a single task are positive aspects of physical exercise. Pick an activity you enjoy, whether brisk aerobic activity or gentle resistance training, and stick to a regular routine, say the pros.
Ways to Get There
While there is certainly benefit in traditional cardio exercises, like power walking, fitness expert Amie Hoff recommends going a bit beyond your comfort zone, suggesting that seniors try out a doctor-approved regimen of aquatics, strength training and mind-body exercises. She also lists dancing— from hula to ballroom, from jazzercise to salsa— adding that physical fitness can be achieved just as easily through good times as it can through scheduled workouts.
As for the mental part— and cultivating that "glass half full" attitude—proponents of exercise claim that physical activity further benefits from becoming part of a group. Much as playing an interactive game of dominoes or bridge is more fun than a game of solitaire, joining a water ballet class might be a better incentive than swimming laps alone.
That wellness is a state of mind and body—where emotional well-being and physical health are intertwined— is a proven concept. It is also a progression of small choices, and science has shown that that living well is never an impossible dream, no matter what your age may be.