Are you a pessimist by nature, a “glass half empty” sort of person? That’s not good for your brain.
A new study found that repetitive negative thinking in later life was linked to cognitive decline and greater deposits of two harmful proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.
“We propose that repetitive negative thinking may be a new risk factor for dementia,” said lead author Dr. Natalie Marchant, a psychologist and senior research fellow in the department of mental health at University College London, in a statement.
Negative thinking behaviors such as rumination about the past and worry about the future were measured in over 350 people over the age of 55 over a two-year period. About a third of the participants also underwent a PET (positron emission tomography) brain scan to measure deposits of tau and beta amyloid, two proteins which cause Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia.
The scans showed that people who spent more time thinking negatively had more tau and beta amyloid buildup, worse memory and greater cognitive decline over a four-year period compared to people who were not pessimists.
The study also tested for levels of anxiety and depression and found greater cognitive decline in depressed and anxious people, which echos prior research.
But deposits of tau and amyloid did not increase in the already depressed and anxious people, leading researchers to suspect repeated negative thinking may be the main reason why depression and anxiety contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia,” Marchant said.
“This is the first study showing a biological relationship between repetitive negative thinking and Alzheimer’s pathology, and gives physicians a more precise way to assess risk and offer more personally-tailored interventions,” said neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, founder of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at NYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.
“Many people at risk are unaware about the specific negative impact of worry and rumination directly on the brain,” said Isaacson, who is also a trustee of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, which funds research to better understand and alleviate age-related cognitive decline.
“This study is important and will change the way I care for my patients at risk.”
More study needed
It is “important to point out that this isn’t saying a short-term period of negative thinking will cause Alzheimer’s disease,” said Fiona Carragher, who is chief policy and research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society in London. “We need further investigation to understand this better.”
“Most of the people in the study were already identified as being at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, so we would need to see if these results are echoed within the general population,” she said, “and if repeated negative thinking increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease itself.”
The researchers suggest that mental training practices such as meditation might help promoting positive thinking while reducing negative thoughts, and they plan future studies to test their hypothesis.
“Our thoughts can have a biological impact on our physical health, which might be positive or negative, said coauthor Dr. Gael Chételat of Inserm/ Université de Caen-Normandie.
“Looking after your mental health is important, and it should be a major public health priority, as it’s not only important for people’s health and well-being in the short term, but it could also impact your eventual risk of dementia,” Chételat said.
Looking on the bright side
Previous research supports their hypothesis. People who look at life from a positive perspective have a much better shot at avoiding death from any type of cardiovascular risk than pessimistic people, according to a 2019 study. In fact, the more positive the person, the greater the protection from heart attacks, stroke and any cause of death.
It’s not just your heart that’s protected by a positive outlook. Prior research has found a direct link between optimism and other positive health attributes, such as healthier diet and exercise behaviors, a stronger immune system and better lung function, among others.
That’s probably because optimists tend to have better health habits, said cardiologist Dr. Alan Rozanski, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who studies optimism’s health impacts. They’re more likely to exercise, have better diets and are less likely to smoke.
“Optimists also tend to have better coping skills and are better problem-solvers,” Rozanski told CNN in a prior interview. “They are better at what we call proactive coping, or anticipating problems and then proactively taking steps to fix them.”
Train to be an optimist
You can tell where you stand on the glass half-full or empty concept by answering a series of statements called the “life orientation test.”
The test includes statements such as, “I’m a believer in the idea that ‘every cloud has a silver lining,'” and, “If something can go wrong for me, it will.” You rate the statements on a scale from highly agree to highly disagree, and the results can be added up to determine your level of optimism or pessimism.
Prior research has shown it’s possible to “train the brain” to be more optimistic, sort of like training a muscle. Using direct measures of brain function and structure, one study found it only took 30 minutes a day of meditation practice over the course of two weeks to produce a measurable change in the brain.
One of the most effective ways to increase optimism, according to a meta-analysis of existing studies, is called the “Best Possible Self” method, where you imagine or journal about yourself in a future in which you have achieved all your life goals and all of your problems have been resolved.
Another technique is to practice gratefulness. Just taking a few minutes each day to write down what makes you thankful can improve your outlook on life. And while you’re at it, list the positive experiences you had that day, which can also raise your optimism.
“And then finally, we know that cognitive behavioral therapies are very effective treatments for depression; pessimism is on the road toward depression,” Rozanski said.
“You can apply the same principles as we do for depression, such as reframing. You teach there is an alternative way to think or reframe negative thoughts, and you can make great progress with a pessimist that way.”
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
– Carl Jung
Bouncing back is a concept well understood in the context of recovering from a sports injury. Following favorite players’ comeback stories fills fans with inspiration, encourages perseverance in pursuit of personal goals, and fosters a sense of self-confidence, like we can do it if they can. Cultivating resilience in the face of all life’s challenges is a proactive way of dealing with the unexpected, the upsets and disappointments, the pitfalls and successes in life, including how to cope with trauma, chronic pain, adversity and tragedy.
Resilience: What It’s All About
An article in Forbes defines resilience as “the capacity for stress-related growth” and states that resilience has two parts related to the way you bounce back and grow:
From big work or life adversity and trauma
From dealing with daily hassles and stress
A study in Health Psychology showed that the frequency and intensity of repeated or chronic everyday life strains is strongly associated with overall health and illness, even more so than major life events.
A 2013 study found that exposure to chronic frequent negative emotion and the inability to process daily stress exacts a long-term toll on mental health.
Resilience, say researchers in an article published in Trauma, Violence & Abuse, can manifest either as “prosocial behaviors or pathological adaptation depending on the quality of the environment.” If individuals suffering from lasting effects of trauma and adversity have access to resources that help them cope, they will be more likely to develop prosocial behaviors that may facilitate healing.
Rolbieki et al. (2017) explored resilience among patients living with chronic pain and found that they showed resiliency in four ways: developing a sense of control (actively seeking information and conferring with their doctor to confirm his/her recommendations; actively engaging in both medical and complementary treatment; making social connections and exhibiting acceptance of pain and positive effect.
One surprising finding is that chronic stress accelerates aging at the cellular level – in the body’s telomeres. These are the repeating segments of non-coding DNA at the end of chromosomes. Scientists have discovered that telomeres can be lengthened or shortened – so the goal is to have more days of renewal of cells than destruction or wear and tear on them.
Researchers suggest resilience should be regarded as an emotional muscle, one that can be strengthened and cultivated. Dr. Dennis Charney, co-author of “Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenge,” says people can weather and recover from trauma by developing and incorporating 10 resilience skills, including facing fear, optimism and social support. Dr. Charney, resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, was shot as he exited a deli. Following the shooting, Dr. Charney faced a long and difficult recovery. The resilience researcher himself had to employ strategies of coping he’d studied and taught.
The American Psychological Association (APA) says that resilience isn’t a trait that people either have or don’t. Instead, resilience “involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”
Ways to Cultivate Resilience
Among the varied ways to develop and cultivate resilience, some are more self-evident than others, yet each is worth a try when attempting to weather life’s challenges.
Act. Even small steps add to a sense of accomplishment, of being proactive instead of reactive. Start with something you feel confident you can do and ask for help if you need it. There’s a lot to be said about self-empowerment when you act in your own best interests. After all, no one else can act for you.
Add to coping resources. Everyone can benefit from having a toolkit of effective coping resources. Combat stress, depression, anxiety and other emotional, psychological and physical issues and conditions through meditation, mindful yoga, exercise and whatever helps you relax, including reading, music, doing puzzles, painting, writing and more.
Embrace flexibility. Instead of regarding your situation as no-win, steer towards an attitude of flexibility. Learn the art of compromise, as in, “I may not be able to run a marathon, yet I can manage a walk in the neighborhood with friends.” In addition, when running into fatigue or pain that prevents you from continuing, congratulate yourself on your effort and the fact that you acted to improve your resilience. Over time, you’ll get stronger and be able to do more, thus adding to your resilience and helping to improve your overall physical and mental health.
Practice optimism. Science says that some optimism is genetic, while some is learned. You can train yourself with practice in positive self-thinking to see opportunity instead of a dead-end, to view a glass as half full instead of half empty. There’s also truth in self-fulfilling attitudes. If you believe you’ll be successful in overcoming adversity, you’re more likely to succeed. The opposite is also true: If you think you’ll fail, you probably will.
Take advantage of support. When you need help, it’s OK to ask for it. In fact, when you know you have support available and are willing to use it, you’re exercising prosocial behavior. Similarly, when you can do so, offer your support to others who may need it.
Avoid personalizing. There’s no point in engaging in blame or endlessly thinking about your situation. Besides being counter-productive, it makes you feel worse. Make use of some of the healthy coping measures you’ve successfully used before and stop ruminating about what happened to you.
Regard the setback/disappointment as temporary. Nothing lasts forever, not even life-altering events, trauma, adversity and pain. You can navigate through this turbulent and emotionally trying time by realizing that this is temporary, and things will get better with your active involvement in your healing process.
Write your new story. Psychiatrists and psychologists call this “reframing” and it refers to changing your story to focus on the opportunities revealed. For example, say you’ve returned from active deployment in a war zone with extensive physical and psychological injuries. Instead of remaining steeped in the negative aspects of your experience, allow yourself to center on other senses, traits, skills and resources you have at your disposal – your empathy, understanding, ability to solve problems, a wide support network, loving family and close friends.
Cultivate gratitude. When you are grateful and actively cultivate gratitude, you are taking advantage of a basic part of resilience and in contentment in life. The more you develop gratitude, the more resilient you’ll become.
Remind yourself of other victories. This may be an intensely challenging time for you, a time when failures and negativity seem paramount and inevitable. Now is when you must remind yourself of your past successes, examples of seemingly impossible hurdles you’ve overcome, victories you’ve scored. This serves as self-reminder that you’ve come back from adversity before. You can do it again.
Enhance spirituality. Religion and spirituality have been shown as predictors of resilience in various populations studied, including returning war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma sufferers, children and adults who experience abuse or violence, patients enduring chronic pain. Prayer, self-reflection, communicating with a Higher Power serves as a healing balm to many who otherwise may resort to negative coping behaviors, such as drinking and drug use.
Teaching people to focus on positive emotions helps them deal with stress, new research finds.
People were taught classic positive psychology exercises such as keeping a gratitude journal, recognising positive events each day and doing small acts of kindness.
Together, the training helped reduce people’s anxiety and depression over the six weeks of the study.
The researchers focused on 170 caregivers for people with dementia.
Half were put in a control group, while the rest were encouraged to focus on their positive emotions.
People were taught eight skills:
Practice a small act of kindness each day and recognise the power it has to increase positive emotions.
Set a simple and attainable goal for each day and note down progress.
Savour a positive event through journalling or discussing it with someone.
Spot at least one positive event each day.
List a personal strength and how you have used it recently.
Use mindfulness to pay attention to daily experiences.
Identify a daily stressor and reframe it as a positive event.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Professor Judith Moskowitz, the study’s first author, said:
“The caregivers who learned the skills had less depression, better self-reported physical health, more feelings of happiness and other positive emotions than the control group.”
The results showed that those who learned the positive psychology exercises experienced a 7 percent drop in depression scores and 9 percent drop in anxiety.
This was enough to move people from being moderately depressed to being within the ‘normal’ range.
Professor Moskowitz chose dementia caregivers as the disease is on the rise:
“Nationally we are having a huge increase in informal caregivers.
People are living longer with dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, and their long-term care is falling to family members and friends.
This intervention is one way we can help reduce the stress and burden and enable them to provide better care.”
One participant in the study commented:
“Doing this study helped me look at my life, not as a big neon sign that says, ‘DEMENTIA’ in front of me, but little bitty things like, ‘We’re having a meal with L’s sister, and we’ll have a great visit.’
I’m seeing the trees are green, the wind is blowing.
Yeah, dementia is out there, but I’ve kind of unplugged the neon sign and scaled down the size of the letters.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.
Research Connects Positive Thinking With Reduced Memory Loss
A new study reveals that positive thinking may help reduce memory loss as people age. It seems the people who look at life through rose-colored glasses may have the right idea after all. This study adds to mounting research about the role of a good attitude, or ‘positive effect,’ in healthy aging.
The study, published on October 22, 2020, in the journal Psychological Science, found that people with an optimistic attitude have better memory as they age. Most people want to retain good memories in life, but the ability to do so largely depends on emotional and physical health. While many factors come into play in regards to the strength of our memory, it turns out being cheerful can reduce memory loss.
For the study, a team of researchers analyzed data from a 9-year longitudinal study involving 991 middle-aged and older U.S. adults. They all participated in a national study conducted at three separate times: between 1995 and 1996, 2004 and 2006, and 2013 and 2014. In the questionnaires, the participants reported on various positive emotions they’d experienced in the past 30 days.
In the last two assessments, the researchers also gave the participants tests to observe the strength of their memory. For these assessments, participants had to recall words right after they’d been said to them, and again after 15 minutes passed. The researchers analyzed how positive thinking could reduce memory loss, taking age, gender, education, depression, negative outlooks, and extroversion into account.
“Our findings showed that memory declined with age,” said Claudia Haase, senior author of the paper and an associate professor at Northwestern University.
“However, individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade,” added Emily Hittner, the paper’s lead author and a Ph.D. graduate of Northwestern University.
In the future, they hope to do further studies on what life factors may improve positive affect, and therefore reduce memory loss. For example, better physical health and stronger relationships may play a role in one’s overall happiness.
OTHER WAYS TO REDUCE MEMORY LOSS
In addition to thinking positively, other lifestyle factors can help improve your memory:
1 – GET PLENTY OF EXERCISE.
Exercise improves every aspect of health, not just our physical appearance and muscle-to-fat ratio. You will increase your endurance and strength, plus give your brain muscles a run for their money as well. Since the mind and body are inarguably linked, we must take care of them both.
Lack of exercise can lead to developing health problems such as obesity. A growing body of evidence links obesity and all the health complications that go along with it to increased memory loss. Furthermore, obesity heightens the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia later in life.
Researchers believe this may occur because obesity negatively affects brain structure and volume. Overweight and obesity cause the hippocampus to shrink, which leads to cognitive decline. Also, the same proteins in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s have been found in those with severe obesity.
Several studies show how regular exercise may help reduce memory loss. For example, studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can result in a larger hippocampus. This area of the brain aids in learning and memory; therefore, a larger brain can support a stronger memory.
2 – PRIORITIZE SLEEP.
Unfortunately, in our “24/7” society, many of us suffer from some level of sleep deprivation. When we run on little sleep, it starts to affect our cognitive function, including memory. Deep, quality sleep helps us consolidate and sort through memories, so without enough REM sleep, our memory suffers. No matter what your schedule looks like, aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and make sure to keep it consistent.
3 – EAT A HEALTHY DIET.
What we put into our bodies not only affects our physical health, but our mental performance as well. Eating too many processed, high-calorie foods can lead to a feeling of brain fog, impairing our memory. Experts say that if you want to reduce memory loss, you should include these foods in your diet:
Fatty fish, such as salmon
Dark chocolate (near 100% cacao, little or no sugar added)
Nuts such as walnuts
4 – DO BRAIN GAMES AND PUZZLES.
Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain needs regular exercise to perform at its best. Do crossword puzzles or other brain games which require you to jog your memory. Instead of passing your time scrolling through social media or watching Netflix, take a few minutes a day to challenge your brain. Not only will you possibly learn something new, but you will reduce memory loss in the process.
5 – WATCH YOUR SUGAR CONSUMPTION.
This tip will help both your physical health and your memory. Just like berries and nuts can improve your memory, unhealthy foods like sugar can hinder it. Studies show that people who eat a lot of sugar have difficulty remembering things and have a heightened risk of developing dementia. Even if the person doesn’t have diabetes, eating too much sugar can hinder memory and brain health.
Researchers believe that, once again, the hippocampus starts to malfunction with too much sugar intake. While it requires a certain amount of glucose to function, too much of it can cause the opposite effect.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON RESEARCH THAT SHOWS POSITIVE THINKING CAN REDUCE MEMORY LOSS
Positive thinking enhances many aspects of life, from our relationships to our physical health. Researchers have found that optimism may help reduce memory loss as well, perhaps due to stronger pathways in the brain. While more studies need to be done about the relationship between memory and positive thinking, this shows great promise for future research.
Since thoughts create our reality, it seems vitally important that we pay attention to what goes on inside our heads. Positive thoughts lead to better outcomes in life, so make sure to take care of your mental health.
From vaccine advancement to cleaner air, these positives are worth focusing on amid this coronavirus pandemic.
It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of bad news right now, since the vast majority of headlines are calling attention to all that’s going wrong in the world.
There’s no denying the pandemic is tough on our physical and mental health, that people are dealing with all types of loss, and the overall situation is pretty dire and bleak. But we can recognize and respect that while also noting that not everything is completely miserable and awful. Amid the chaos, there are a number of silver linings worth acknowledging.
Our air is getting cleaner. Scientists are innovating at lightning speed and creating new types of tests, drugs and technologies. People around the world are uniting and so much more.
There are quite a few things that can bring some (measured) optimism into our lives right now — you just might have to go digging around for it. Here are just a few of those positives:
Smog is clearing up.
Around the world, major cities that are usually dampened by chalky clouds of dust and pollution are now getting some major relief. A new report found there’s been nearly a 17% decline in global carbon dioxide emissions since last year, potentially the largest drop in pollution ever recorded.
The biggest winner here is India, where air quality is notoriously terrible — during the lockdowns, pollution in the region has dropped to a 20-year low. Back in the U.S., we’re seeing clearer air, too.
Los Angeles, a city that’s been battling a smog crisis for years, is consistently seeing crispy, clear blue skies. The Twin Cities have seen a drop in pollution amid the stay-at-home orders — pollution in Minneapolis is down by 15%, and nearby areas are seeing up to 35% less pollution typically caused by car traffic and industrial activity. Detroit has seen a 30% drop in smog, Ohio residents are breathing fresher air, and same goes with the string of cities in the Southwest.
Crisis is breeding innovation — and lots of it.
There’s also a stunning amount of innovation going on right now. There’s a big problem that needs to be solved — the coronavirus — and the great thinkers of the world are hard at work coming up with solutions to treat, contain and prevent COVID-19.
Onyema Ogbuagu, a Yale Medicine infectious disease doctor, said there are over 250 trials currently looking at various drugs and treatments for COVID-19. There are new technologies that can sanitize personal protective equipment and medical equipment for reuse. Old drugs are being repurposed; new drugs are being developed.
“I think it’s amazing to see how much innovation is going on,” Ogbuagu said.
And it’s all happening at a record speed; crisis prompts ingenuity. These new discoveries won’t just help us recover in the short-term, but they’ll transform our lives for years to come.
The world is united in a big way.
All that innovation wouldn’t be possible without the massive amount of collaboration and info-sharing between countries and regions right now.
Science has historically been an extremely competitive sport, and researchers typically like to hoard info and take all the credit for their work. But during this time, scientists around the world are sharing their findings so, together, the world can take out COVID-19.
“[The pandemic] has ushered in an unprecedented era of cooperation and innovation from the private and public sector and medical community towards achieving common goals,” Ogbuagu said.
This level of collaboration has transcended country borders and regions and galvanized the research community, he added. The world is united in a way we’ve never really seen before.
Live entertainment is, in a way, more accessible.
Concerts, comedy shows, orchestras — attending such events are usually super pricey and involve a whole lot of planning and coordination. Lately, creators and artists are performing live online for free.
You can pretty much tune in to a performance every night of the week if you plan it right. You can start the week with Grace Potter or Metallica, wind down each night with a live stream from the Metropolitan Opera, spend Thursdays with Radiohead, and end the week with Ben Folds and Major Lazer. Here’s to hoping couch concerts are still a thing every so often on the other side of the pandemic.
You have a chance to reconnect with friends and family from afar.
Since we’re prohibited from doing many of the activities we love with the people we live close to, people are Zooming, FaceTiming, chatting and even letter-writing with friends and family from afar.
Though social distancing and stay-at-home orders are by no means easy, they’ve given us the opportunity to reach out and connect with people we might not have the opportunity to see regularly.
“Crisis has an interesting way of giving us permission to reach out to those closest to us for support reinforcing positive relationships,” said Collin Reiff, a psychiatrist with NYU Langone Health.
You can pick up new and old hobbies
Mental health experts say hobbies do wonders for our mental health and well-being, but it can be tough to find the time to take on new hobbies in the normal hustle bustle of life.
Reiff said he’s noticed many people are using their new free time to practice self-care — they’re going on walks, crafting, cooking, reading, writing and gardening. People are also revisiting activities they loved as a kid — whether it be playing soccer or making friendship bracelets — as a way to relax and revisit old memories (and, of course, stop thinking about the coronavirus).
We are being forced to recalibrate.
Finally, the pandemic has given us time to check in with ourselves and really prioritize our own well-being. This time is urging us to take care of ourselves. Not only is it important to keep yourself healthy, but other people depend on it now, too.
That goes for slowing down, as well. Our society has been so obsessed with being busy and outdoing one another. But in a global health crisis, that’s not totally possible. It’s OK if you’re not productive right now. Life is on pause. Acknowledge that, and let yourself rest.
Despite aches and pains, the wisdom that comes with age can make you happier.
Despite more physical aches and pains as we age—the ‘paradox of aging’ suggests that older people are generally more comfortable in their own skin, feel better about themselves, and grow happier in their lives year after year…decade after decade.
Nora Ephron once said, “Looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was about 50 years old.” As someone who just entered my sixth decade of life, I concur. The inherent wisdom that comes from life experience makes it easier to cope with the pitfalls of aging. Empirical evidence also suggests that lots of people get happier as they get older.
A new study by age researchers at the University of California, San Diego, reports that despite having more physical ailments, older adults living in southern California tend to be happier and have markedly better mental health than their younger counterparts.
For this study, senior author Dilip Jeste, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego, and colleagues collected data via phone interviews on the physical health, cognitive function, and other measures of mental health in 1,546 adults, ages 21 to 100 years living in San Diego county.
Jeste emphasizes that this study wasn’t restricted to psychological well-being, but included other markers of mental health. One caveat about this demographic—and the cross-sectional method of collecting information—is that these findings only provide a snapshot of a limited geographic area at one-moment-in-time and are not longitudinal.
The Wisdom of Aging Facilitates an Upward Spiral of Psychological Well-Being
The researchers found a substantial improvement to psychological well-being among older adults that followed a linear trajectory—which improved year after year once people got over the hump of the colloquial “midlife crisis.” The linear nature of the findings surprised the researchers. In fact, the oldest cohort in this study had mental health scores significantly better than the youngest cohort.
Across the board, the participants in their 20s and 30s reported higher levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alarmingly, this period of early midlife was associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood, which is cause for concern.
These findings turn conventional notions of aging upside down. Aging in the 21st century doesn’t appear to be an unavoidable process of physical and cognitive decline. In a statement, Jeste said, “Some cognitive decline over time is inevitable, but its effect is clearly not uniform and in many people, not clinically significant—at least in terms of impacting their sense of well-being and enjoyment of life.”
In terms of causation, the specific reasons for improved positive mental health in old age are difficult to pin down. That said, below are seven elements of wisdom that I’ve found make people happier as they age based on empirical evidence and life experience.
7 Elements of Wisdom for Aging Gracefully by Bergland
Stop holding grudges against yourself and others.
Embrace who you are, warts and all.
Vocalize your imperfections shamelessly.
Practice conscientious emotional regulation.
Stay even-keel via equanimity.
Apologize wholeheartedly for any wrong-doing.
Move on! Let go of negative emotions and regrets.
As we age, many people inherently learn the above elements of wisdom through life experience. That said, over the years I’ve found that having an itemized punch list of target mindsets and behaviors makes it easier to expedite your learning curve.
Conclusion: It Really Is “Getting So Much Better (All the Time)”
From a public health perspective, Jeste is concerned that the rates of psychological distress and mental illness in young people are rising at an alarming rate. Also, other studies have shown that mortality rates among specific middle-aged groups have skyrocketed in the past ten years. In a statement, Jeste concluded,
“Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth.”
The latest research reminds us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in an earlier stage of life, or in midlife, who is feeling malcontent or suffering from depression. I’ve lived through this myself. As an adolescent—and again in my late 30s—I suffered major depressive episodes (MDE) that included suicidal ideation. Hang in there. I am living proof that it really does start getting better at a certain point in life. If you are suicidal, please seek assistance: <U.S.> http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ <Canada> https://www.suicideprevention.ca/need-help
Below is a passage I wrote for The Athlete’s Way over a decade ago—just months after getting through a harrowing MDE. This advice has continued to work for me over the subsequent years. If you are currently struggling with mental health issues, hopefully, these insights will be helpful for you, too.
“When life throws me a curveball, I have learned from experience to be proactive and reach out to friends and mental health professionals to help me through. When you are in the blackest of blackness, the light seems like it will never enter your brain again. But it will. The light will flicker again. That is the human spirit; it always, always comes back. I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track.
You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”
– Not Because You Will Benefit From It,
But Others Might
The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic where the most useful thing many of us can do is stay at home and keep away from others. Schools, restaurants, office buildings and movie theaters are closed. Many people are feeling disoriented, disconnected and scared.
At this time of soaring infection rates, shortages of medical supplies and economic downturns, there are also examples of people looking for ways to express their gratitude to those on the front lines of fighting the epidemic. In many European countries, for example, people are expressing gratitude for the work of the medical staff by clapping from their balconies. Recently, this same practice has migrated to New York City.
As psychology researchers, we have been working to study the connection between gratitude and well-being.
Gratitude and well-being connection
In 2013, psychologists Robert Emmons and Robin Stern explained gratitude as both appreciating the good things in life and recognizing that they come from someone else.
There is a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being. Researchers have found that individuals who report feeling and expressing gratitude more report a greater level of positive emotions such as happiness, optimism and joy.
At the same time, they have a lower level of negative emotions such as anger, distress, depression and shame. They also report a higher level of life satisfaction.
Furthermore, grateful individuals report a greater sense of purpose in life, more forgiveness and better quality of relationships, and they even seem to sleep better.
In short, grateful individuals seem to have more of the ingredients needed to thrive and flourish.
There are several plausible explanations for the apparent connection between gratitude and well-being. It may be that gratitude serves as a positive lens through which to view the world.
For example, grateful individuals may be inclined to see the good in people and situations, which may result in a more compassionate and less critical view of others and themselves.
Grateful individuals may also be naturally prone to forming mutually supportive relationships. When someone expresses gratitude, the recipient is more likely to connect with that person and to invest in that relationship in the future.
Gratitude exercises have weak effects
However, there is one important caveat to this research. It shows that gratitude is correlated with well-being, but it does not prove that expressing gratitude actually improves well-being.
Psychologists have conducted a number of experiments to see if giving thanks leads to greater well-being. For example, individuals may be asked to perform gratitude exercises at home and then report on their well-being afterward. These exercises include writing a thank-you letter or keeping a journal of things one is thankful for.
Several review papers over the past four years, including our recent paper, indicate that these gratitude exercises have fairly weak effects on well-being.
These review papers combine the findings from multiple different studies, which allows researchers to be more confident that the findings are consistent and can be trusted.
Researchers found that such gratitude exercises only increase happiness and life satisfaction a little bit. Similarly, the effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety was also small.
Express gratitude to help others
We are not suggesting that expressing gratitude has no value. Rather, we argue that gratitude should not be thought of as a self-help tool to increase one’s own happiness and well-being.
Instead, gratitude may be most valuable as a way of honoring and acknowledging someone else. Indeed, researchers have found that expressions of gratitude lead to improved relationships for both the one expressing gratitude and the recipient. The lead researcher of a 2010 study – psychologist Sara Algoe – concluded that for romantic relationships, gratitude worked like a “booster shot.”
During this global pandemic, perhaps it is more important than ever to express gratitude to the important people in our lives – not just loved ones, but the countless public officials, health care professionals and others who are fighting on the front lines.
April 2, 2020
Jennifer Cheavens Associate Professor of Psychology, The Ohio State University
David Cregg Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology, The Ohio State University
Jennifer Cheavens receives funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
She is also under contract with Cambridge University Press and receives compensation for editorial duties from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
David Cregg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article,
and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The Ohio State University / The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Good news for the cheery: A Boston study published this month suggests people who tend to be optimistic are likelier than others to live to be 85 years old or more.
That finding was independent of other factors thought to influence life’s length — such as “socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors,” the researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say. Their work appears in a recent issue of the science journal PNAS.
A Brighter Outlook Could Translate To A Longer Life
“We wanted to consider, in the current issue, benefits of psychological resources like optimism as possible new targets for promoting healthy aging,” says Lewina Lee, who headed the study. She’s a clinical research psychologist at Boston University. “The more we know about ways to promote healthy aging the better.”
Researchers already knew from previous work that optimistic individuals tend to have a reduced risk of depression, heart disease and other chronic diseases. But might optimism also be linked to exceptional longevity? Lee looked at medical records from two long term research studies — one involving female nurses and the other involving men, mostly veterans.
The study included 69,744 women and 1,429 men. Both groups completed survey measures to assess their level of optimism, as well as their overall health and health habits such as diet, smoking and alcohol use. In the survey, study participants were asked if they agreed with statements such as “in uncertain times I usually expect the best” or “I usually expect to succeed in things that I do.”
Health outcomes from women in the study were tracked for 10 years, while the men’s health was followed for 30 years. Researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11-15% longer lifespan, and had far greater odds of reaching 85 years old, compared to the least optimistic group.
Now, researchers say they can’t tell from this study how optimism might affect longevity. Optimistic people might be more motivated to try to maintain good health — such as maintaining a decent diet, engaging in regular exercise and not smoking.
They may also be better at regulating stress, Lee says.The burden of unrelieved stress is well known to have negative effects on health, including an increase in heart disease, liver disease and gastrointestinal problems.
Clinical health psychologist Natalie Dattilo, with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says even if it doesn’t come naturally, optimism can be taught. In her practice she works mostly with adults who struggle with depression and anxiety — “a lot of folks who worry,” she says. Many are pessimistic and “tend to see things through a half empty glass and typically expect negative outcomes.”
In treatment, Dattilo works to expand their world view, so their set of assumptions about the world and themselves are more uplifting and empowering.
“We examine their thinking under a psychological microscope,” Dattilo says, discussing why they anticipate a particular negative outcome. “If we can look at that together, we can begin to uncover systems of beliefs and assumptions people are making about themselves in their lives and we can begin to change those.”
Dattilo challenges patients to pay attention when a negative outlook kicks in, and consciously shift it. “Just try it on, try on a different thought, attitude or mindset and play that out and just see what happens,” she advises.
Also, she emphasizes, optimism isn’t simply the absence of depression or sadness or stress.
“People who think in optimistic ways are still prone to stress,” she says. “They are functioning in our society, meeting demands, prone to burn out. And it’s not like negative events won’t happen.”
But the way they cope with problems makes a difference, she says. Difficulties don’t tend to cause them distress for extended periods of time.
“Resilience is our ability to bounce back, to recover,” she says. “And what this study shows is that optimism actually plays a very big role in our ability to bounce — even if we experience setbacks.”
So, are gloomy curmudgeons doomed to short, brutish lives, even if they are content to be pessimistic? Some people find eternal optimists insufferable.
Lewina Lee says she treats pessimistic patients “all the time.” While some seem satisfied with their outlook, others are more open to lightening up, once they know how, in order to achieve goals that are important to them.
“I would try to challenge their negativity and shake it loose,” she says, and get rid of some of the patients’ more rigidly held beliefs for their own benefit.
Pessimists who try this will likely end up happier, she suggests. And they might even extend their lives.
Have you ever been lonely in a crowd? Have you ever been perfectly content all alone? Me too. And I have also suffered from loneliness.
Loneliness is a complex mental and emotional phenomenon that has at its base a powerful emotion that has survival value for children. All of us have experienced some degree of abandonment, if only for a short time, and remember the painful and scary feeling that goes along with it.
Whenever we are reminded of this feeling or anticipate it in the future, we get a twinge of abandonment distress that we experience as loneliness. This can happen among a crowd of friends or even after making love. It can be pretty confusing and can put you off your game if you don’t know what’s going on.
Here are some tips for recognizing loneliness for what it is and dealing with it in the healthiest ways.
1. Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. When you are feeling lonely, it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are in fact, isolated and alone. The brain is designed to pay attention to pain and danger, and that includes painful scary feelings; therefore loneliness gets our attention.
But then the brain tries to make sense of the feeling. Why am I feeling this way? Is it because nobody loves me? Because I am a loser? Because they are all mean? Theories about why you are feeling lonely can become confused with facts. Then it becomes a bigger problem so just realize that you are having this feeling and accept it without over reacting.
2. Reach out because loneliness is painful and can confuse you into thinking that you are a loser, an outcast. You might react by withdrawing into yourself, your thoughts, and your lonely feelings and this is not helpful. At its best, anticipation of loneliness might motivate us to reach out and cultivate friendships, which is the healthiest thing to do if you are sad and alone. When you are a child, and your sadness causes you to cry, you may evoke a comforting response from others. If you’re an adult, not so much.
3. Notice your self deflating thoughts. We often create self centered stories to explain our feelings when we are young, it is not unusual for children to assume that there is something wrong with them if they are not happy. If they are lonely and sad, children may assume other people don’t like them when this is rarely the case.
Victims of bullying may well have fans and friends, but they often aren’t aware of it because the shame and loneliness get more attention. Habitual assumptions about social status continue into adulthood and if you are looking for evidence that the world sucks, you can always find it.
4. Make a plan to fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness. If you realize you are dealing with an emotional habit, you can make a plan to deal with loneliness. Since healthy interaction with friends is good, make some effort to reach out to others, to initiate conversation and face time even when your loneliness and depression are telling you not to. Yes, it is work, but it is worthwhile, just like exercising is worthwhile even when you are feeling tired or lazy.
5. Focus on the needs and feelings of others, the less attention on your lonely thoughts and feelings. I can walk down the street thinking about myself, my loneliness and the hopelessness of it all, staring at the sidewalk and sighing to myself. Or I can walk down the street grateful for the diversity of people I get to share the sidewalk with, silently wishing them good health and good fortune, and smiling at each person I meet. The latter is more fun, even though I sometimes have to remind myself to do it on purpose.
6. Find others like you. Now days there are more tools than ever before to find out where the knitters, hikers or kiteboarders are congregating so that you can get together with those who share your interests. This makes it much easier to identify groups with which you will have something in common, a natural basis for beginning a friendship.
7. Always show up when meeting up with others. You don’t have to run for president of the knitters society at your first meeting. But you do have to show up. I have been telling others to practice yoga for 20 years and promising I would do it myself for just as long, but except for the occasional coincidental yoga offering at a retreat, I didn’t take the trouble of finding a class I could attend regularly until a month ago. Now I am enjoying it and it wasn’t that hard. I have put a reminder in my phone to resign from the procrastinator’s society.
8. Be curious, but don’t expect perfection or applause. Each time you show up is an experiment, a micro adventure in social bonding. If you are curious about and interested in others, they will be attracted to you because you are giving them attention. So you will get attention in return. Curiosity about others also takes your focus away from those painful feelings that tend to make you hide and sulk.
9. Kindness goes a long way. “There’s nobody here but us chickens.” This is one of my favorite lines from The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas. Underneath the impressive facades of the high fliers are the same set of emotions we all are born with. Celebrities suffer from stage fright and depression too.
You have the power to offer loving kindness and generosity of spirit to all you come into contact with. It isn’t instinctual to be kind to strangers or people who scare you. But it is a choice. It is a choice that Jesus and Ghandi used intentionally. And in the long run it is a winning choice. The alternative, being mean or stingy with those you don’t know well, can get you a reputation as a Scrooge.
10. Be persistent even if a particular group does seem to be a dead end for you, try another. AA and AlAnon recommend that everyone try six different groups to find one that suits you best. If you are persistent, challenging the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, and showing up and being curious and kind to others and more and more groups, the odds are in your favor.
And once you have a friend or two, nourish those friendships with time and attention. Don’t be too cautious about whether you are giving more than you are getting at first. If you make more friends and some of them are takers, you can choose to spend more time with the friends who reward your friendship.
Mindfulness and its proven impact on loneliness: What you should know
(BPT) – Maybe you know someone who stands by taking five minutes each morning to meditate or finds time after lunch to quiet his or her mind and focus on breathing. Whatever the method may be, incorporating “mindfulness” practices into your life can have a wide range of positive health benefits like improving your memory, sleep and immune system; reducing stress and feelings of loneliness and increasing compassion toward others and yourself.
Mindfulness means taking time to pay attention to yourself and your thoughts and feelings. Read on to learn how you can put mindfulness into practice in your life to help improve your overall health.
How to make mindfulness a routine part of your day.
Find five to ten minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breath. (Helpful hint: Put your phone on silent or in another room so you can concentrate!) Take the time to notice where your mind goes and how your body is feeling. You just might find that this helps you focus and prioritize your day.
Before you go to bed take time to focus on the good things that happened that day. Write your thoughts down in a journal. Writing them down can help you deliberately recognize the positive, even on a tough day.
Search for “mindfulness apps” on your smartphone or tablet that lead you in a mindfulness exercise. For many people, using an app is an easy way to remain consistent with the practice. And many of these apps are free!
Feeling lonely? Mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness has been shown to help older adults overcome a silent but urgent health issue: loneliness. It is estimated that more than half of adults age 65 and over regularly experience moderate to severe loneliness. Loneliness is characterized by a marked difference between someone’s desired companionship and actual relationships. Through unique studies conducted by UnitedHealthcare and AARP, researchers are applying the techniques of mindfulness to help combat loneliness in older adults.
Loneliness poses a serious threat to the quality of life for older adults. It is linked to negative health outcomes such as higher risk of dementia, mortality and disability.
“The health risk of chronic loneliness, in older adults, is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and has a greater impact on mortality than obesity,” said Dr. Charlotte Yeh, M.D., chief medical officer, AARP Services Inc. “That is why UnitedHealthcare and AARP Services Inc. are collaborating to identify actionable solutions, geared for any individual across the spectrum of loneliness.”
Researchers looked at whether mindfulness interventions, like breath awareness, self-compassion and kindness exercises, could positively impact a person’s optimism and quality of life — all factors that help reduce loneliness.
Conclusions were encouraging: Mindfulness activities were shown to decrease loneliness among older adults. The research demonstrated that mindfulness reduced stress, and improved memory, sleep, the immune system, resiliency and compassion for self and others.
Although loneliness is complex and challenging to address, a mindfulness practice may help you live your best life.
Build Your Resilience and Coping Skills With These Tips
Resilience can often mean the difference between handling pressure and losing your cool. Resilient people tend to maintain a more positive outlook and cope with stress more effectively. Research has shown that while some people seem to come by resilience naturally, these behaviors can also be learned. The following are just a few of the techniques you should focus on in order to foster your own resilience.
1 Find a Sense of Purpose in Your Life
After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Candace Lightner founded Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Upset by the driver’s light sentence, Lightner decided to focus her energy into creating awareness of the dangers of drunk driving. “I promised myself on the day of Cari’s death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead,” she later explained. In the face of crisis or tragedy, finding a sense of purpose can play an important role in recovery. This might involve becoming involved in your community, cultivating your spirituality, or participating in activities that are meaningful to you.
2 Build Positive Beliefs in Your Abilities
Research has demonstrated that self-esteem plays an important role in coping with stress and recovering from difficult events. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Becoming more confident in your own ability to respond and deal with crisis is a great way to build resilience for the future.
3 Develop a Strong Social Network
Having caring, supportive people around you acts as a protective factor during times of crisis. It is important to have people you can confide in. While simply talking about a situation with a friend or loved one will not make troubles go away, it allows you to share your feelings, gain support, receive positive feedback, and come up with possible solutions to your problems.
4 Embrace Change
Flexibility is an essential part of resilience. By learning how to be more adaptable, you’ll be better equipped to respond when faced with a life crisis. Resilient people often utilize these events as an opportunity to branch out in new directions. While some people may be crushed by abrupt changes, highly resilient individuals are able to adapt and thrive.
5 Be Optimistic
Staying optimistic during dark periods can be difficult, but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resiliency. Positive thinking does not mean ignoring the problem in order to focus on positive outcomes. It means understanding that setbacks are transient and that you have the skills and abilities to combat the challenges you face. What you are dealing with may be difficult, but it is important to remain hopeful and positive about a brighter future.
6 Nurture Yourself
When you’re stressed, it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Losing your appetite, ignoring exercise, and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to a crisis situation. Focus on building your self-nurturance skills, even when you are troubled. Make time for activities that you enjoy. By taking care of your own needs, you can boost your overall health and resilience and be fully ready to face life’s challenges.
7 Develop Your Problem-Solving Skills
Research suggests that people who are able come up with solutions to a problem are better able to cope with problems than those who cannot. Whenever you encounter a new challenge, make a quick list of some of the potential ways you could solve the problem. Experiment with different strategies and focus on developing a logical way to work through common problems. By practicing your problem-solving skills on a regular basis, you will be better prepared to cope when a serious challenge emerges.
8 Establish Goals
Crisis situations are daunting. They may even seem insurmountable. Resilient people are able to view these situations in a realistic way and then set reasonable goals to deal with the problem. When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by a situation, take a step back to simply assess what is before you. Brainstorm possible solutions, and then break them down into manageable steps.
9 Take Steps to Solve Problems
Simply waiting for a problem to go away on its own only prolongs the crisis. Instead, start working on resolving the issue immediately. While there may not be any fast or simple solution, you can take steps toward making your situation better and less stressful. Focus on the progress that you have made thus far and planning your next steps, rather than becoming discouraged by the amount of work that still needs to be accomplished.
10 Keep Working on Your Skills
Resilience may take time to build, so do not become discouraged if you still struggle to cope with problematic events. According to Dr. Russ Newman, “research has shown that resilience is not an extraordinary thing but is rather ordinary and can be learned by most anyone”. Psychological resilience does not involve any specific set of behaviors or actions, but can vary dramatically from one person to the next. Focus on practicing some of the common characteristics of resilient people, but also, remember to build upon your existing strengths.
Why are some people better able to cope with crises than others?
While people vary dramatically in the coping skills they use when confronting a crisis, researchers have identified some key characteristics of resilience. Many of these skills can be developed and strengthened, which can improve your ability to deal with life’s setbacks.
Resilient people are aware of situations, their own emotional reactions and the behavior of those around them. In order to manage feelings, it is essential to understand what is causing them and why.
By remaining aware, resilient people can maintain control of a situation and think of new ways to tackle problems.
Another characteristic of resilience is the understanding that life is full of challenges. While we cannot avoid many of these problems, we can remain open, flexible, and willing to adapt to change.
Here are some other characteristics of people who have strong coping skills.
A Sense of Control
Do you perceive yourself as having control over your own life? Or do you blame outside sources for failures and problems? Generally, resilient people tend to have what psychologists call an internal locus of control. They believe that the actions they take will affect the outcome of an event. Of course, some factors are simply outside of our personal control, such as natural disasters. While we may be able to put some blame on external causes, it is important to feel as if we have the power to make choices that will affect our situation, our ability to cope, and our future.
Strong Problem-Solving Skills
Problem-solving skills are essential. When a crisis emerges, resilient people are able to spot the solution that will lead to a safe outcome. In danger situations, people sometimes develop tunnel vision. They fail to note important details or take advantages of opportunities.
Resilient individuals, on the other hand, are able to calming and rationally look and the problem and envision a successful solution.
Strong Social Connections
Whenever you’re dealing with a problem, it is important to have people who can offer support. Talking about the challenges you are facing can be an excellent way to gain perspective, look for new solutions, or simply express your emotions. Friends, family members, coworkers, and online support groups can all be potential sources of social connectivity.
Identifying as a Survivor, Not a Victim
When dealing with any potential crisis, it is essential to view yourself as a survivor. Avoid thinking like a victim of circumstance and instead look for ways to resolve the problem. While the situation may be unavoidable, you can still stay focused on a positive outcome.
Being Able to Ask for Help
While being resourceful is an important part of resilience, it is also essential to know when to ask for help. During a crisis, people can benefit from the help of psychologists and counselors specially trained to deal with crisis situations. Other potential sources of assistance include:
Books – Reading about people who have experienced and overcome a similar problem can be both motivating and good for ideas on how to cope.
Online Message Boards – Online communities can provide continual support and a place to talk about issues with people who have been in a similar situation.
Support Groups – Attending support group meetings is a great way to talk about the challenges you’re facing and find a network of people who can provide compassion and support.
Psychotherapy – If you are having trouble coping with a crisis situation, consulting a qualified mental health professional can help you confront the problem, identify your strengths, and develop new coping skills.
Super agers are a group of older adults who have cognitive abilities on par with people decades younger than them. From what you should eat to how you should exercise and who you should spend your time with, these are things they’re doing on the regular.
Smoking will trim off up to a dozen years of your life, suggests 2013 research in the New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, if you never smoked, you’re twice as likely as a current smoker to see 80 candles decorate your birthday cake. What’s more, the habit is linked to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, says research. If you smoke, there’s no better time than now to quit.
Dine on fish and chicken
When Thomas Perls, MD, MPH, the director of the New England Centenarian Study and a professor of medicine and geriatrics at Boston Medical Center works with patients, he tells them to go easy on the beef and pork. Not only is a high intake of red meat linked with cancer, but the saturated fat in the meat may also harm your brain, per 2012 research in the Annals of Neurology. It’s fine if you’d like to eat it on occasion, of course, but limit it to twice a week, he advises. The rest of the week, lean toward fish, poultry, and heaps of veggies.
Rather than focusing on burning calories with cardio equipment, build strength with weights. There are at least a dozen feel-good benefits that kick in when you pick up a dumbbell. But lifting also maintains muscle and bone mass to protect against frailty—and prevent falls—when you get older. It also keeps your mind limber. One randomized-controlled study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that when women having memory problems did twice-weekly weight training for six months, they improved measures of attention and memory compared to those who did balance exercises.
It’s not enough to simply exercise, you have to stay active in general. And one of the ways you can get the most out of it is to pick those that you can do with others. Because taking an evening stroll with neighbors offers far more benefits than stretching your legs: “Socialization is cognitively stimulating,” says Dr. Perls. Chatting with friends, challenging each other, and offering support helps your brain lay down new neural networks that keeps your brain young.
Check your eating
It sounds so boring, right? But if you have a healthy weight, you’re already so far ahead. “Obesity is such a potent and important cause of numerous age-related diseases, like adult-onset diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke,” says Dr. Perls. What’s more, obesity has also been linked with dementias and Alzheimer’s disease, as having a greater fat mass is associated with higher blood levels of amyloid proteins, which are linked to cognitive decline.
Play a mind game
There’s a lesson in always learning something new: It doesn’t just keep life exciting, but it keeps you sharp as you age, studies suggest. Try one of these 14 brain challenges—because “use it or lose it” seems to apply to your brain as much as your muscles. A study in 2013 asked one group of older adults to quilt, another learned digital photography, and a third did both activities for 16 hours a week over three months. Those who took up the “cognitively demanding” task of learning digital photography sharpened their memory more so than those who honed their old quilting skills. What have you always wanted to do but thought you weren’t going to be good enough? That’s exactly what will keep your brain young for years to come.
Eat more berries
Berries are one of the cornerstones of the MIND diet, a hybrid between the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet that can keep your brain 7.5 years younger, shows research. Among all the other fruits, they’ve been singled out thanks to past research that showed intakes of blueberries and strawberries were associated with better brain health. The sweet little fruits are rich in anthocyanins, antioxidant plant compounds that preserves neuronal pathways involved in memory and cognition. Aim to eat at least two servings per week. And if you’re looking for new ways to eat berries, try them in a delicious fruit smoothie.
Stress is a given, but know you have a choice to change your circumstances and limit the bad vibes from festering. “Stress that continues for a long time, a condition known as chronic stress, is toxic to your brain – it literally eats away at critical brain regions,” writes neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, in the Guardian. (She’s one of the authors on a new study on super agers published in the Journal of Neuroscience.) Barrett suggests leaving negative things behind. It can be as little as changing jobs or taking relaxing vacations.
Do you need these 17 tips to help cut back on alcohol? Consider this: In a study on cognitively healthy 65-year-olds published in PLOS Medicine in 2017, those who reported light or moderate drinking scored higher on a test measuring cognitive functioning compared to teetotalers. The key is light. Another study showed that people who have 14 to 21 drinks per week experienced more shrinkage in the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory. What’s more, their research didn’t show that light drinking was protective. Until the research is definitive, stick to the recommended one drink a day for women and two for men.
It’s all about your attitude, right? It’s easy to brush off health issues as being all about your genes, and something that’s not under your control. But Dr. Perls says the decisions you make every day can have a huge impact on your lifespan. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is about 79 years old, but he says that can be much longer. “I think the vast majority of the reason someone lives to 90 is lifestyle behaviors. That’s a really optimistic view of aging, but it’s possible,” he says. Knowing that your daily choices matter—and can tack on almost a dozen good, sharp years on your life—can help you build on habits that will get you well into your golden years.