The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Don’t worry, be happy and live longer
- US study shows pessimism and anxiety increase risk of falling ill and dying early

New Delhi, Dec. 23: A cheerful and optimistic outlook to life may keep people healthier and enable them to stay alive longer than those who display pessimistic tendencies, new research has shown.

In a US study that tracked the fate of 7,000 adults who were in college during the 1960s, medical researchers found that the optimistic among them had a lower risk of dying over the past 40 years.

Pessimistic people had lower rates of longevity, according to the new study by Beverly Brummet and her colleagues at Duke University Medical Center in the US, who have reported their findings in the latest issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

They found that over the 40-year period, 476 participants had died from various causes. Those who were the most pessimistic had a 42 per cent higher risk of dying than the most optimistic participants.

The study is only the latest to contribute to growing evidence that is underscoring the connection between the mind and the body, showing that health and longevity may be intertwined with happiness.

“This is not surprising,” said Samir Parikh, a consultant psychiatrist with Max Healthcare in New Delhi. “There’s ample evidence to suggest that positive emotions provide extra resistance to illness.”

Just last month, US psychologists had shown that positive emotions can reduce people’s risk of suffering from both common cold and influenza. Psychologist Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that people who were “happy, lively and calm” were less likely to catch colds or report symptoms when they get sick than people who were “anxious, hostile and depressed”.

The Carnegie researchers who published their results in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine have said their findings indicate that a positive emotional state of mind may be even more important to health than previously suspected.

“Chronic stress and depression tend to compromise immunity,” Parikh said.

Stress can exacerbate symptoms of asthma or trigger fluctuations in sugar levels in people with diabetes, he said.

Parikh said hospitals need to act on such research. “Counsellors in medical departments such as neurology or paediatrics could work on patients to reduce stress and improve resistance. “Scientists gained powerful insights into the mind-body connection four years ago when US researchers discovered that the brain can control the immune system through the vagus nerve — a large nerve that meanders through the body’s organs.

Researcher Kevin Tracey at the Feinstein Institute of Medical Research in New York state found that the brain sends chemical messages through the vagus nerve to various sites in the body to block a compound called tumour necrosis factor (TNF).

While TNF is a crucial component of the immune system, a response to injury or infection, too much of TNF can be bad, even fatal. The work by Tracey showed that the brain prevents the excess release of TNF through the vagus nerve.

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