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New studies shows positive thoughts can have a big impact on brain health
Know anyone who is settled in their ways or always seems to think the glass is half empty? There is this implicit belief that as we age we lose capacities, both physical and mental. But is this really true? Sure things change.
You may not sprint the way you did when you were a young adult, but it may surprise you how much your attitude impacts your brain and aging process.
Potentially the most important discovery of this century is the realization that our brains are not a static clump of gray-goo doomed to a steady decline as we age.
Instead it has plasticity, meaning it can develop, change and build resilience at any age. With some focused effort, we can shift our perceptions and reprogram our outlook on many aspects of our life.
Why What We Think Impacts How We Feel
For the past decade, neuroscientists have been busy telling us all about research confirming that what we think impacts how we feel physically and emotionally1. Although most of us know the basis of this research, we have a lifetime of habitual wiring that has us cling to certain negative thoughts and emotions - in the long run these thoughts can wreak havoc on our health and well-being.
In his book Buddha's Brain, neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, Rick Hanson takes the reader through different bodies of research and methods changing our fundamental thinking patterns2. By increasing our ability to nurture positive thoughts, we thereby increase our levels of happiness and satisfaction in life. Simply put, a happier you is a healthier you.
Recent research has shown us that negative thoughts are in a sense like “velcro,” while positive thoughts are like “teflon” for the brain3. We remember and hold on to the negative and easily forget the positive experiences and feelings we encounter.
For instance, in our relationships, it takes five positive interactions to make up for each negative one we experience3.
Likewise, those deep seated beliefs about aging can carry some weight. If we think we are getting old and slowing down, we will become slower than someone of the same age who doesn't share the same perception.
A negative bias towards aging can actually speed up the aging process, while a positive mindset will help to promote healthy aging.
Positive Aging & Brain Health
So what should you do? Begin a gratitude practice. Ask yourself each and every day this simple question: what am I grateful for today?
Say it out loud, write it down, share it with a friend and practice this daily. You can think of this as an exercise of mental gardening, with each piece of gratitude reflecting a seed you can sprinkle on your day.
In time some of these seeds will grow and you will find that you’re not as easily triggered or reactive around your attitude changes.
You may also want to list out what you can do physically. Acknowledge what you are doing to take care of yourself and which people have had a positive impact on your life.
Learn different breathing techniques for heart and brain health. Let your imagination kick into gear and have a celebration with finding and holding on to what is positive.
This is an important first step on the path of rewiring your brain for positive aging and healthy days to come. All of these activities will contribute to changing your outlook on aging and improving your long-term brain health.