Our thoughts can have a biological impact on our physical health. A new study from University College London shows the importance of being in control of our mind rather than being controlled by it and its negative thoughts. How and what we think matters, as does how we look at the world and ourselves.
The study found that repetitive negative thinking in later life was linked to greater memory problems, cognitive decline, and greater deposits of two harmful proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. In light of these findings, researchers proposed that repetitive negative thinking may be a new risk factor for dementia.
Negative thinking behaviors such as rumination about the past and worry about the future were measured in over 350 people over the age of 55 over a two-year period. About a third of the participants also underwent a PET brain scan to measure deposits of tau and beta amyloid, two proteins which cause Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia.
The scans showed that people who spent more time thinking negatively had more tau and beta amyloid buildup, worse memory and greater cognitive decline over a four-year period compared to people who were not pessimists.
The study also tested for levels of anxiety and depression and found greater cognitive decline in depressed and anxious people, which echos prior research. However,deposits of tau and amyloid did not increase in the already depressed and anxious people, leading researchers to suspect repeated negative thinking may be the main reason why depression and anxiety contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, researchers expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia.
Thoughts Have Health Consequences
Many people at risk are unaware about the specific negative impact of worry and rumination directly on the brain. “Our thoughts can have a biological impact on our physical health, which might be positive or negative,” said coauthor Dr. Gael Chételat of Inserm/ Université de Caen-Normandie. “Looking after your mental health is important, and it should be a major public health priority, as it’s not only important for people’s health and well-being in the short term, but it could also impact your eventual risk of dementia,” Chételat said.
Previous research supports their hypothesis. People who look at life from a positive perspective have a much better shot at avoiding death from any type of cardiovascular risk than pessimistic people, according to a 2019 study. In fact, the more positive the person, the greater the protection from heart attacks, stroke and any cause of death.
The study researchers suggest that mental training practices such as meditation might help promoting positive thinking while reducing negative thoughts, and they plan future studies to test their hypothesis.
The Brighter Side
If you are a pessimist by nature, a “glass half empty” sort of person, that’s not good for your brain. Much of our well-being, whether physical, mental, or emotional, depends in great deal upon our mental outlook. Those outlooks are not who we are or our identity. They are simply modes and techniques for looking at the world and ourselves, ones we hone and sharpen over time with use. They are changeable.
We can learn to be more positive without turning into oblivious people who hide their heads in the sand to avoid anything “negative” or live in a fantasy “la la land.” A true optimist isn’t a blind chump so don’t think you need to turn into one to lessen negativity and its associated health risks. Meditation and mindfulness practices are great ways for recognizing when your thoughts have veered too far into negative territory and how to re-frame them into being less detrimental and more helpful.
Why not look into these sort of techniques to take back control of your mind from negative and anxious thoughts? Not only will your long-term health prospects improve, your immediate well-being will too. Who doesn’t love that?
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