Optimists experience less memory decline than their doom-and-gloom peers

While I tend to think of myself as a realist,  I typically to find the good in people and in situations. It’s probably also why I’ve always been drawn to the pursuit of science and medicine—and part of the reason I became a doctor. 

Hopefully, you too usually consider yourself a glass-half-full kind of person. Because it’s a scientific fact that positivity has powerful, beneficial effects on human health. For example, research shows it helps lower stress, the No. 1 hidden cause of cardiovascular disease. And it even lowers heart attack risk by over 30 percent in people with a family history! 

Plus, in recent years, researchers have also begun to discover that positive thinking can even benefit your brain health and memory. Let’s jump right in… 

Positive-thinkers have less memory decline 

In a recent, national study, U.S. researchers analyzed data on nearly 1,000 middle-aged and older U.S. adults. They assessed the participants’ outlook on life at three different points over nine years.  

Specifically, in each of these three assessments, the researchers asked the participants to report on a range of positive emotions (such as enthusiasm or cheerfulness) that they had experienced during the past 30 days. And, in the second and third assessments, the participants completed standardized memory testing. 

Then, the researchers analyzed the association between positive feelings and working memorytaking into account age, depression, education, sex, and personality type (introverted or extroverted). 

It turns out, all the participants experienced some memory decline over the nine-year study. However, the decline wasn’t uniform among the participants... 

In fact, as you might have expected (if you’re an optimist, that is!), people with higher levels of positive feelings at the study’s outset had far less memory decline than those with lower levels. 

In my view, this study addto the growing body of evidence showing that having a positive mental attitude helps support overall health…and helps to stave off memory decline, specifically 

So, I encourage you to look for ways to naturally boost your feelings of positivity. For example, as the weather warms up, try to engage in more leisure and recreational activities outside. Join a book club. Take a cooking class. Or simply go out more often with friends!  

The positive emotions—including laughter—that you experience during these outings will serve as part of a virtuous cycle to support brain health, cognitive function, and memory. 

Laugh your way to better memory 

Of course, laughter is a simple, outward sign of a positive mental state. It shows you’re experiencing pleasure, joy, satisfaction, and enthusiasm—which benefits your mental health, and your physical health, too. 

Indeed, studies show wide-ranging health benefits of laughter—from improving weight loss to relieving depression. And another recent study found that having a good laugh may even help improve your memory.  

Researchers analyzed men and women in their 60s and 70s. Participants were divided into two groups: One group was instructed to sit silently, meaning they weren’t allowed to talk, read, or use their cellphones for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the other group watched funny videos during the same time period. Then, each group took a memory test.  

Both groups performed better on the memory test than they did at the start of the study. But the “humor group” had 44 percent better memory recall, while the “silent group” only had 20 percent improvement. 

Plus, the humor group showed considerably lower levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone”—while the non-humor group’s cortisol levels decreased only slightly. 

So, make it a point to laugh out loud as a way to naturally boost your feelings of positivity and reduce stress. To learn more about the health benefits of laughter—and how to bring more of it into your life—check out the current March issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“Laughter really is the best medicine”). Not yet a subscriber? Now is the perfect time to become one.  

Sources: 

“Positive Affect Is Associated With Less Memory Decline: Evidence From a 9-Year Longitudinal Study.” Psychological Science, 2020; 095679762095388 doi.org/10.1177/0956797620953883 

“The Power of Positive Thinking.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, accessed 2/22/21. (hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-power-of-positive-thinking) 

“The effect of humor on short-term memory in older adults: a new component for whole-person wellness.” Adv Mind Body Med. 2014 Spring;28(2):16-24. 


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