How We THINK Impacts Our Health!

My name is Michelle Meredith Bowen and I am excited to be a guest blogger and expert on the topic of Women’s Health & Wellness. Like Jennifer, I too left corporate America to follow my passion for helping women create positive change in their lives. 

I spent 15 years in healthcare sales, so you could say I have seen behind the curtain of the healthcare system. When I started to see the shift in my business due to healthcare reform, I became concerned.  I witnessed the serious decline in the health of most Americans, especially women.  I also realized that “pushing pills” wasn’t really the answer, but only a band-aid for the bigger problem. My areas of expertise are in cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which have been seeing significant increases in the last several years.  This number really shocked me…but I believe it was based on what I saw:  by 2030, 50% of the population will be obese.  The sad reality is, even with our advanced healthcare system, we aren’t focused on the right problem.  What I uncovered in my two plus years of research was that the reason most diets and exercise programs fail to provide lasting results is they don’t focus on helping create total health.


What is Total Health?  It is not only the absence of disease, but rather a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing.  So, if you are trying to make changes in improving your health, your happiness, etc…you will have more success and are more likely to maintain the changes if you focus on YOU as a whole because everything is connected!  That means focusing on creating positive change in all areas of health and happiness to see the best results.  But to get started on your journey to really finding and living your healthiest, happiest life…you must start with deciding WHAT you want your health and happiness to look and feel like. 

Creating CHANGE in your health and happiness…starts in your head.

Our mindset is a VERY powerful thing…so powerful in fact that it can “make or break” our physical health. 

Most of us know, or at least have felt, there is a link between our mind and our health from our own experiences.    It’s the degree to which our mindset can affect our health that may really surprise you.

To help give some perspective, imagine having an important presentation to give…do you get nervous?  What happens to your body under this acute stress?  Does your heart race or your stomach tighten?  Do you spend a little more time in the ladies room than you wish to?  Imagine if you live with chronic stress or live in a negative mindset…what do you think is happening to your body if you live in that state EVERY DAY? 

Well…nothing good that’s for SURE!

There is a pretty clear link between stress and our physical health and new research is suggesting that stress causes an increase in cortisol levels.  This causes damage to our arteries, a possible explanation of why stress increases our risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, it’s not just stress; it is depression as well, according to Dr. Michael Frenneaux, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Birmingham in England.  Depression doubles an otherwise healthy person’s heart attack risk.

Did you know that your attitude “about your health” can also help determine HOW long you live?  Sounds pretty crazy but that’s part of the power of the mindset.  People with a positive mindset about their health ARE healthier and at less risk of developing disease than their negative counterparts.

A Duke University study found that HOW a person classified their own health was predictive of survival rates.  Now…it’s not just that the people who reported poor health were actually sick so they KNEW it…the researchers controlled for that and all of the patients had significant heart disease.  The 3000 heart patients were asked to classify their health as poor, fair, good or very good.  Those who chose very good were about 70% less likely to die within 3 years than those who answered “good”.  AND they had a three times the survival rate of those who claimed “poor” health.

This same phenomenon was also seen in another study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins University.   They found that, in over 5000 people over age 65, those who had a poor image of their health (regardless of other risk factors) had almost DOUBLE the risk of death within 5 years.  The researchers concluded that a pessimistic mindset proved to be deadlier than smoking 50 packs of cigarettes a year or congestive heart failure.

A person’s OPINION (mindset) of their health stands out as a KEY to their longevity!!!  So how do you feel about that?  Where is your mindset about your health?  Are you positive or negative?  You mindset is a very powerful thing…and guess what?…YOU control it.

What if you already have a positive mindset? How does that help you live your happiest and healthiest life? 

One of the most frequently discussed studies connecting your mindset to your susceptibility to getting sick was conducted by Dr. Cohen, Carnegie Mellon University.  343 healthy individuals were exposed to the cold virus and very interesting things happened!  Dr. Cohen showed that individuals who exhibited a positive emotional style or mindset had a greater resistance to getting the cold.  Not so for the negative nellies! 

Those who were classified as Negative Emotional Style (reported anxiety, hostility or depression) were more apt to report cold related symptoms regardless of whether they really developed a cold! 

Your positive mindset doesn’t just stop at helping stave off the common cold (although that’s pretty cool).  A positive attitude may also lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease…yes the thing that will get most of us.

Having a positive mindset may even help slow the progression of atherosclerosis.  Psychologist Karen Matthews at the University of Pittsburgh observed 209 healthy, postmenopausal women for three years and found that the most optimistic ones had very little thickening in their carotid arteries—just one percent, versus as much as 6.5 percent in the pessimist group.

Dr. Hilary Tindle, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and her colleagues analyzed the information from the Women’s Health Initiative known for its conclusions on hormone therapy.  It included 97,000 women aged 50-74 who did not have heart disease or cancer when they joined the study.  At the beginning of the study, the women answered questions about their attitudes.  According to the survey definitions, optimists expected good things to happen and the cynically hostile women were mistrustful of other people.  After 8 years, the optimistic women had a 14% lower risk of dying from ANY cause compared to their pessimistic counterparts.  Interesting!

So what exactly causes this connection between our mindset and how well or how LONG we LIVE?  Dr. Engstrom, MD of Lunds University, Sweden, has extensively studied the link between self ratings of health and the outcomes.  He says that a positive outlook on your health may decrease mental distress.  This alone can be a big factor against developing diseases.  Also, individuals with a positive mindset often are more likely to exercise and eat healthier.  

There is a lot of research showing that connection between your mindset and your health.  While we may not know exactly how or WHY it happens, we do know this:

  • Your mindset about your health…dictates it.  If you are positive about your outlook on your health…you are less at risk for illness.

  • The more stress and negativity you carry, the more negative your mindset…the more risk you have for developing diseases and going to an early grave.

You’ve got the CHOICE…Choose a positive mindset for your life and health then reap all the benefits! 

In case you want to dig a little deeper, check out these resources:

Troubled Mind…Troubled Heart Psychosocial Risk Factors and Coronary Heart Disease Stress and Your Heart

Guest Blogger Michelle Meredith-Bowen ACSM CPT, Certified Wellcoach® and Founder of CoolLime Life

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