Aging Well: Think positive to stay healthy and happy

You can teach yourself skills to build positive thinking into a habit–training yourself to approach even unpleasant situations in a more positive and productive way.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

In times of stress, a positive attitude can help you stay healthy and happy. Multiple studies have indicated that positive thinking can benefit everything from your immune system to your heart health, and even your longevity.

Evidence of this is supported in the groundbreaking Age Well Study from Mather Institute. The Institute is the research arm of Mather, the parent organization to The Mather, a Life Plan Community coming to Tysons. The Age Well Study’s findings include evidence that older adults living in Life Plan Communities who scored high in optimism reported better levels of health and less stress than others.

What if you’re not a natural “glass half full” optimist? The good news is that you can teach yourself the skills to build positive thinking into a habit — and thus, approach even unpleasant situations in a more positive and productive way.

Follow these research-based tips to practice positive thinking. If you can stick with them, you can transform your outlook:

  • Take 5 for Gratitude — Set aside time every day to reflect on what you’re thankful for. Write down — or mentally list — three things from the day that make you grateful.
  • Flip the Script — Be aware of your “self-talk”, or your constant stream of automatic thoughts. This is where most of us reinforce negative or positive thinking about ourselves and the world around us. Evaluate your self-talk periodically and correct negativity. Practice positive self-talk. 
  • Put on a Happy Face — Even if you don’t feel like smiling, doing so can physically ease your stress. Acting happy can lead to actual happiness.
  • Try a Fresh Perspective — Feeling sad or angry? Concentrate on looking for a positive side to the situation. Rather than stressing about being stuck at home, appreciate your surroundings and spend some time savoring your favorite music.
  • Keep Moving — Physical activity boosts your mood, reduces stress, and makes it easier to focus on the positive. Ideally, exercise for 30 minutes a day — either all at once or in 10-minute increments.

If you’re not a natural positive thinker, you won’t change overnight. However, by practicing habits like the ones above, you can reduce negativity and enhance your health as well as your ability to cope with stress constructively.

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in 2024.