Staying mentally upbeat may have physical benefits, too

THE QUESTION Negative emotions have been shown to have a detrimental effect on the body. Might positive emotions — feeling happy, satisfied, energized about life — have a good effect?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 3,199 people, 60 and older, including their attitudes about how much they enjoyed life, any problems they had with basic daily functions such as dressing and bathing, and how mobile they were. About 21 percent were deemed to have a high level of enjoyment about life, 56 percent a medium level and 23 percent a low level of enjoyment. In an eight-year span, problems with day-to-day tasks generally increased and mobility declined. About 4 percent of those most upbeat about life developed two or more new functional impairments, compared with 17 percent of those who enjoyed life the least. During this time, people assessed as enjoying life at a medium or low level were about 80 percent more likely than their happier counterparts to have developed mobility and functional problems.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older people. There is growing evidence that optimistic people not only tend to live longer but may reap physical benefits as well, allowing them to continue working, volunteering, participating in activities or doing whatever they deem important.

CAVEATS Whether one’s attitude toward life has a comparable effect on younger people was not studied. The researchers noted that they adjusted the data to account for health, age, wealth and similar issues that otherwise might have affected results.

FIND THIS STUDY: Jan. 21 issue of CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) at www.cmaj.ca.

LEARN MORE ABOUT maintaining emotional health at www.familydoctor.org (search for “emotional health”) and www.gmhfonline.org (click on Consumer/Patient Information, then Healthy Aging).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.