Eating right and exercising are the two main aspects of physical health that people focus on when it comes to getting healthy. And it’s probably true that someone who sticks to a plant-based diet plus exercises daily would live longer than someone who lives off of processed foods and is mostly sedentary.
Physical health is foundational, but if you want to live a longer and healthier life, don’t underestimate the importance of mental and emotional health as well. After all, most people can admit to having experienced mental states like stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and even heartbreak negatively affecting their motivation to keep hitting the gym regularly or their desire to avoid bingeing on ice cream every night.
Both the mind and body need to work together to optimize overall health. Here are just a few psychological habits that are associated with longer lifespans.
1. Being optimistic.
Some people tend to just be natural optimists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t consciously put in the effort to gradually shift any pessimistic habits you may have to more optimistic ones. Optimism is the tendency to expect good things to happen in the future, and research has shown that optimists are better able to cope with everyday life, are more successful in dealing with aversive events and experience more success than pessimists, even when important life goals are impaired.
2. Having a sense of purpose.
Those who find themselves perpetually busy—tending to everyone else’s needs and taking responsibility for all sorts of little things—may find themselves later in life wishing they had focused more on identifying some sort of larger-scale, meaningful purpose. In a 2015 study, 1,475 adults were asked about their sense of purpose and then participated in a follow-up after 18 years. The study showed that a stronger sense of purpose was associated with healthier aging over the 18-year period.
3. Wanting to connect and interact with friends on social networks.
Previous research has shown that having more friends can help you live longer, and it turns out that the way you stay connected with them on social networks can lend itself to longevity, too. A recent study that compared 12 million Facebook users to nonusers revealed that Facebook users who accepted more friend requests and and interacted with friends in ways that suggested face-to-face interaction (such as posting photos) had a reduced risk of mortality.
4. Feeling sexy.
Anyone who has worked on improving their own sense of self-love would probably tell you that sexy is a feeling — not a specific look. And when you feel sexy, you’ll naturally want to have more sex, which could potentially have antiaging effects on the brain. Researchers wanted to investigate whether the rewarding experience of sex would lead to new neuron production and hippocampal function in middle-aged rats, which is known to be compromised by the aging process. The researchers found that sexual experience did indeed enhance the number of new neurons, while long-term exposure to sexual experience improved cognitive function. When a prolong period of withdrawal was introduced, however, cognitive improvement stopped despite the increased number of new neurons.
5. Having a great sense of humor.
The old saying stands — laughter really is the best medicine! A Norwegian study that looked at the link between sense of humor and mortality among over 53,000 men and women over a period of 15 years found that the link was particularly strong for women, where women on average had a 48 percent reduced risk of of death from all causes, a 73 percent reduced risk of death from heart disease, and an 83 percent reduced risk of death from infection. For men, only a link could be identified between sense of humor and risk of death from infection, where the risk was reduced by 74 percent on average.
Are any of the above mental habits surprising to you? All have one big theme in common: they’re all positive states. So you could say that if you simply started looking at life from a more positive perspective — even while being aware of and accepting the negatives — you could improve your mental wellbeing and maybe even enjoy a longer life because of it.