You can go jogging in the morning, can start a yoga practice, or plan a healthy diet. But if you feel gloomy, it is unlikely that you will become a long-liver. Positive thinking is what really extends one’s life, and also enables one to live it in one’s right mind. This is the conclusion to which American medical doctors arrive again. This is one of the published results of a 15-year-long study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
The work was done by David Snowdon and his colleagues from the University of Kentucky. The source of valuable scientific material was a congregation of nuns – former school teachers – in Minnesota. With the consent of school sisters of Notre Dame, as they call themselves, the neurologist regularly studies the condition of their health, case reports, biographies, and, finally, the brain when somebody of the old nuns passes away. The total of 678 nuns agreed to become “guinea pigs”, realizing this as their mission of service for humankind.
Having studied 180 biographies, written by the women when they were slightly more than 20, Prof. Snowdon found out that the most cheerful nuns lived on average longer than their more gloomy sisters. The gap between their life spans is up to 10 years. According to Snowdon, the life span of a person can be judged by how actively he or she uses in his or her life history such words as “happiness”, “joy”, “love”, “hope”, or “glad”. The scientist maintains that, based on the analysis of the mental activity and feelings of quite a young person, it is possible to predict with an 85-90% certainty if he or she would be affected in 60 years by an ailment similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
“This is quite consistent with earlier studies which show that people, expressing more positive views in the tests that determine the type of their personality, have a greater chance to live longer than those that are more pessimistic”, writes the researcher. “The more optimistic a person is, the less the stress to which he subjects his or her organism”. The feeling of happiness and hope, emphasizes Snowdon, is just the state of mind that contributes to the “prosperity” of the body. And the other way round, he points out, “pathological emotions, such as depression or hostility, can be causes of a disease”. The theory of Snowdon is that anger, hatred, feeling of anxiety exert a “cumulative effect” on the human organism. In other words, they as if accumulate in the person over the decades. A sad outcome of this process can be cardiovascular diseases, stroke and the same Alzheimer’s disease. To date, Alzheimer’s disease has been diagnosed in 4 million Americans, and by the mid 2050s the number of people suffering from this ailment will increase up to 14 million. The study by David Snowdon seems to indicate at least one way how this can be avoided in the old age. In brief, smile more often. Certainly, not every scientist would agree with such a simplified approach. However, on the whole the reaction of the US scientific circles to the nun study was positive and without any emphasized pessimism. That is, according to the theory of Snowdon, absolutely correct. “The study is interesting and important”, concluded Richard Suthman, Assistant Director of the National Institute on Aging. “In my opinion, another conclusion that optimism makes it possible to predict longevity and even contributes to it, will lead to a significant expansion of research in this field”.
Yury Kirilchenko (ITAR-TASS correspondent)