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Stay Happy to Live Longer

Jun 19, 2015 01:48PM ● Published by Corinne Moore

The happiness, health and longevity connection

By Ross Houser, M.D.

Happiness not only feels good, but also does your body good. Happiness has been linked to a stronger immune system, stress relief, decreased risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and a decrease in chronic disease. Don’t fall for the belief that we are hardwired to be naturally happy or unhappy, and powerless to change. Everyone is able to take steps to a happier and healthier life.

We can also take steps that affect our longevity. Scientific studies suggest that about 25 percent of our lifespan is dictated by our genes, while the other 75 percent by our lifestyle choices. The Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner, uncovers the common lifestyle characteristics of people living over the age of 90 and 100. According to the Blue Zone Project researchers, the characteristics found in blue zone communities can extend one’s life by a decade. People in blue zones not only live longer, but also enjoy a quality of life that is happy, healthy and productive. How do they do it? It’s their lifestyle. Simple daily habits can have profound results on improving the quality of life for individuals and whole communities.

iStock_000058930440_XXXLargeThere are a number of reasonable actions we can all take to achieve a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Maintain a positive, happy mood. This alone can alter a person’s risk for disease. Express gratitude, laugh, savor joyful events and engage in frequent acts of kindness. Listen to uplifting music to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical in your brain. Practice optimism. Choose a calm demeanor over an anxious one. The brain can change and adapt. While this takes some time, neural pathways of anxiety can be pruned away by not using them. The more you practice, the more the skill takes root, ultimately promoting happiness and overall health.

Refresh and rejuvenate the body, soul and spirit with health-restoring sleep. Americans generally work more than 70 hours a week, considerably interfering with sleep. Sleep deprivation increases the risk for cancer, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, depression and premature aging. For the person who cannot decrease work hours, the next best thing is to take a nap. A 30-minute nap midday has just about all the restorative features of a good night’s sleep. To promote good sleep, keep the room dark and cool. Sleep on a comfortable mattress. Reduce electronic noise, such as the television, as well as bright light exposure and evening computer and phone usage.

Create an exercise plan and surround yourself with people who keep you moving. Spend time outside walking, bicycling, jogging, swimming, gardening and visiting friends. Exercise helps prevent osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and high blood pressure, along with boosting energy and metabolism and strengthening bone and building muscle. Centenarians work the family farms, walk miles daily up and down hills and maintain vibrant social relationships. Surround yourself with other active people who can encourage your efforts to stay in shape and promote healthy habits.

Increase plant-based foods. Garden vegetables, whole grains and beans (legumes) are the cornerstones of blue-zone diets and other disease-prevention studies. Practice cooking whole foods from scratch, and eat multiple servings of vegetables each day. Eliminate processed and junk foods and beverages as much as possible.

Have a sense of purpose and be optimistic. A sense of purpose in life reduces the odds of suffering a stroke and decreases the risk of age-related dementia and disability. It is protective against multiple adverse health outcomes, including a decline in physical function and disability. Get involved in your community by engaging in activities that feel impactful and positive. The involvement and contribution in helping others can drastically improve lives of individuals and communities as a whole. These responsibilities also provide a reason to get up and moving each day. Spend time with friends and family, and choose friends who practice healthy lifestyles.

Correct Answer: 50+

Address chronic health issues. If chronic pain or degenerative joint conditions are standing in the way of progress toward a happy, healthy life, there are many wonderful practitioners in Southwest Florida who embrace regenerative medicine techniques that keep people active and do not require medication or surgery. Ask for help.

Here’s to a long, happy and healthy life!

Ross Hauser, MD, is the medical director of Caring Medical and Rehabilitation Services, with locations in Fort Myers, Florida, and Oak Park, Illinois (CaringMedical.com).

FOR MORE INFO

To learn more about Southwest Florida’s Blue Zone Project, visit southwestflorida.bluezonesproject.com.

To learn about nonsurgical options for chronic pain and ways to stay active, visit CaringMedical.com.

Don’t fall for the belief that we are hardwired to be naturally happy or unhappy, and powerless to change.

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