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Improving wellbeing

Improving wellbeing

January 20, 2017

Be happy and healthy: Happiness really is the key to good health

Image credit: iStock/UberImages

When we think of what it means to be healthy, our minds usually go to exercise and food, but there is another factor that plays a role. Happiness is just as important to your overall health as what you eat and how active you are, meaning that improving your happiness levels could offer a number of benefits.

Both happiness and health are tied together very closely, with each affecting the other. This means that if you aren’t happy your health suffers and vice versa. Ultimately, this means that if you want to be as healthy as possible, you should look at things that are affecting how happy you are as well as how long you spend at the gym each week.

Healthy people are happier

A recent study by the London School of Economics found that health was one of the biggest factors when determining how happy someone is. The Origins of Happiness study measured people’s life satisfaction and what impacts this.

It was found that money had a much smaller impact on happiness than health and relationships did, showing that physical health and social and psychological factors are most important when it comes to being happy.

Similarly, this means that failed relationships and poor health led to a decline in happiness, having a much greater impact than changes in economic situation. Results were based on data taken from 200,000 across four countries.

Happy people live longer

A landmark study looking at the effects of positivity on health found that happier people really do live longer. Researchers from the University of Kentucky were able to pinpoint physical benefits to a positive attitude in their nun study.

They found that of the most cheerful nuns, around 90 per cent were still alive at age 85, compared to just 34 per cent of those who had a negative attitude. In fact, over half (54 per cent) of the happy nuns lived past 94 compared to just 11 per cent, suggesting that a cheerful disposition really does keep you going.

On top of this, continued research into the findings of this study revealed that the happier nuns were dramatically less likely to suffer from dementia than their more miserable counterparts. This suggests that their health throughout their longer lives was also better.

Being happy protects your heart

A number of different studies have found that happiness has a big impact on heart health, suggesting that a positive outlook can help you avoid serious illness.

Another study by the University College London back on 2005 found that those who were happier tended to have lower blood pressure and heart rate, which are signs of good health. Participants were asked to rate their happiness 30 times throughout a single day and do the same three years later.

Researchers found that those whose self-assessment suggested they were happiest in the first part of the study tended to have a lower heart rate, by around six beats per minute. The happiest individuals during the three-year follow-up also had much better blood pressure.

In addition to this, a 2010 study performed by researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center, US found that those who felt less anger and stress at work were less likely to develop heart disease.

Researchers asked almost 2,000 Canadian participants to rate how often they expressed positive emotions on a scale of one to five. In a follow-up ten years later, it was found that those who marked themselves as being happier had healthier hearts. For each on-point increase in positive emotions, participants experienced a 22 per cent reduction in their risk of heart disease.

Happiness strengthens your immune system

Not only does being happy protect you from big health issues, it can also reduce the smaller complaints, such as cold and flu. Studies have found that being more positive actually strengthens your immune system, helping your body fight off viruses and limiting the impact they have on you.

A study involving 350 adults conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, US looked at the impact that happiness had on the likelihood of contracting the common cold. Participants were called six times within the space of two weeks to see how often they had experienced nine different positive emotions.

After this time, the participants were exposed to the cold virus and kept in quarantine for a five-day period. It was found that those who had reported experiencing the nine positive emotions more throughout the two weeks prior to exposure were less likely to catch a cold, suggesting stronger immune systems. While this study was not incredibly in-depth, other research has had correlating results in this area.

All of this means that good health could be aided and affected by your happiness levels. With this in mind, it might be worth looking at what you can do each day to put a smile on your face as well as burn calories.

 

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How to keep your heart healthy

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