In light of new evidence that happy people don’t live longer than their grumpy peers, one might be tempted to drop the pursuit altogether. A recent study published in the Lancet followed nearly 720,000 middle-aged women for several years and reported that while those who were happier tended to be healthier, they had no edge when it came to longevity. (Similarly, while unhappiness may be a side effect of illness, research shows that it is not alone capable of making you sick.) On the other hand, evidence shows that attitude can have meaningful–and in some cases measurable–effects on health, even if it can’t outright extend one’s life. Here’s the latest on the mind-body connection.
[This article consists of 6 illustrations. Please see your hard copy.]
Surprising effects of mind-set on the body
MOOD AND SURGERY OUTCOMES:
If a person is in a bad mood, their medical procedure may not go as smoothly, a December 2015 study showed. In the study, the researchers looked at 230 people who underwent procedures in which a catheter was inserted into a blood vessel. Before the procedure, people filled out a questionnaire that asked them to rate various adjectives describing how they felt emotionally. The study authors found that people with more negative feelings had a greater incidence of adverse events from the procedure, like slow heart rate or abnormal blood pressure. The research is early, but it’s not the first time scientists have seen physical changes from a negative mood.
ANGER AND HEART-ATTACK RISK:
A 2015 study found having an episode of intense anger was associated with an 8.5 times greater likelihood of having a heart attack in the next two hours. Exactly how anger could contribute to a heart attack remains unknown, but the researchers speculate that stress triggers increased heart rate and blood pressure, blood-vessel constriction and clotting, which raise risk.
AWE AND REDUCED INFLAMMATION:
Awe was found in a January 2015 study to reduce compounds that promote inflammation, which is linked to diseases ranging from Type 2 diabetes to arthritis. In the small study, college students filled out questionnaires about how often they experienced certain emotions. They found that happy moods in general were associated with lower inflammation, but the students who experienced awe most often had especially lower levels.
OUTLOOK AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE:
The stereotypes a person holds about old age can affect how their brain ages, found a new Yale School of Public Health study. Men and women who viewed aging negatively had a greater loss of hippocampus volume and significantly higher scores of plaques–both indicators of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers say it’s the first time this type of risk factor has been linked to the development of brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s.
MINDFULNESS AND BODY FAT:
In an October 2015 study, people with mindful dispositions–an ability to stay focused on the present moment–were found to have less body fat. Men and women with lower levels of mindfulness had a 34% higher prevalence of obesity compared with people with high levels of mindfulness. Though it’s only an association, researchers suggest people who are more aware may be more likely to eat healthier and exercise more.
This appears in the December 28, 2015 issue of TIME.