Longevity and psychology. Feeling good is a lifestyle choice.

In many companies, a hybrid formula is already in place that sees the alternation of work in presence and remote work. Some companies will offer the possibility of periods in which it will be possible to work completely remotely, also allowing people to move from their usual home.

There will therefore be a number of opportunities and greater choice in some cases. It is evident that the membrane between private and professional life will be more permeable and it is not yet clear what the psycho-social impact of this greater permeability will be . A good adaptation to the different forms of new normal will certainly require some attitudes and skills such as openness to change, curiosity, especially flexibility.

Many people are already experiencing a search for new balance between work and personal life, also recognizing that they have the opportunity to create new, more functional daily routines and to live a healthier and healthier life.

However, although people often know which behaviors are at risk to health, the transition to action is not always immediate.

What are the links between psychological aspects – behavioral, emotional, relational – and health? And what are the advantages that can be gained by activating virtuous circles between these two aspects? Can the promotion of psychological well-being affect health and longevity?

Lifestyles

Scientific research in recent years has highlighted that nutrition, exercise and stress play a role in inflammatory processes linked to a number of chronic and oncological diseases . Therefore, a healthy eating style, the practice of physical exercise and the prevention and management of prolonged stress conditions – or rather distress – contribute to the general state of health – and therefore to longevity – through the prevention of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Unfortunately, we know that it is not enough to recognize that an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle endanger health. A number of psychological factors that influence lifestyles come into play. For example, the optimism bias , that “it won’t happen to me” that doesn’t trigger the motivation to adopt healthy behaviors. Or the belief that you are unable to change your lifestyle. Let’s think about how many people have tried several times to go on a diet with initial good results for a limited time and then regain the same weight if not more.

The processes of change are complex. We start from a phase of ” precontemplation ” in which we begin to identify the need for changes towards healthier lifestyles but we still don’t have a good idea of ​​what this can mean and we can be frightened by the commitment that change requires . When introducing new habits and behaviors and starting to see results it becomes important to consolidate new habits and maintain motivation .

Motivation and a sense of self-efficacy are therefore fundamental and can be nourished by ad hoc training and psychological counseling interventions .

If the glass is half full …

Individual characteristics and attitudes play an important role on health: emotional stability, the propensity for gratitude, an optimistic outlook contribute to the general state of health.

A famous study, the “study of the Sisters”, reports that the expression of positive emotions in the biography written upon entering the convent was associated with the longevity of the novices who had participated in the research.

The results of a meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2019 highlighted that an optimistic attitude is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events and mortality . Since the 1950s, much research has been conducted on the  associations between anxiety, irritability, a chronic sense of urgency and cardiovascular disease.. There are proven links explained by the mode of overactivation of the autonomic nervous system. However, the relationship between health and optimism is complex. Too much optimism leads to minimizing the need for medical care or even to behaving at risk for health (excessive use of alcohol, smoking). Too little optimism is related to a lower motivation and sense of effectiveness that are key to engaging in physical activity and making lifestyle choices that are healthy.

It is therefore a health protective factor that is defined as “optimal optimism”. That is the ability to recognize both the element of challenge and difficulty in situations and the opportunity to learn something and use one’s resources  to find adaptive solutions.

The 4 “maintenance practices”

How then to activate a virtuous circle between physical health and psychological well-being?

1. Stay calm and… brings the level of arousal into balance.

Arousalit is the state of neurophysiological activation that occurs when the environment asks to increase one’s level of concentration, alertness, reactivity and mental and physical performance (a presentation in front of colleagues, an exam, a competitive competition, driving in traffic conditions , sexual activity). Too much activation and too little activation – for a long time – are not functional to health both physically and mentally. It is therefore important to recognize what your level of involvement, concern or boredom is. If the activation is too low, just get up for a few minutes, take a few steps, get your muscles moving. If it is too high, you can breathe consciously for two minutes. The goal, in both cases, is to bring the organism back to a state of equilibrium:

2. Help out.

An interesting line of research concerns the role of altruism on health. Some evidence shows that supporting other people contributes to health, both physically and psychologically . In fact, being of help to others increases one’s sense of self-efficacy, the conviction of being able to manage situations and naturally contributes to the creation of interpersonal bonds that represent one of the variables most closely linked to the state of health both in terms of prevention and for those living with a disease condition.

3. Train the ability to see beauty.

Positive emotions protect against stress and thus contribute to health. To actively search for positive sensations is possible thanks to our ability to get excited in front of something that stimulates the sense of wonder: a flower that is blooming, listen to music, savor a fresh fruit. The NHS in Great Britain provides general practitioners with the ability to “prescribe” a visit to an exhibition, learn to play an instrument or sign up for a dance class. Physical exercise is now considered to be a real drug that has effects on physical health and psychological well-being. Harvard Medical School calls walking “the wonder drug”. Helps to control episodes of “nervous hunger”, reduces the risk of relapse in some metabolic and oncological pathologies, makes the immune system work better. Another activity that is a real cure-all is dancing, single, in pairs, in groups, as it brings together physical exercise, mind-body coordination, sociality.

4. Look at the plate.

Eating healthily requires, among other things, knowing how to organize oneself. Often when you decide what to eat, you are already in a condition of “deficiency”. The brain, “designed” for survival, will send the signal to make up for this deficiency in a short time and better if with the most energetic and tasty food possible. This is why it is important to organize yourself in such a way as to provide the mind and body with options that respond in a healthy way to the need for nutrition. And keeping at the furthest point those foods that are unhealthy and that if they initially give the charge in the medium and long time will not be allies of health and psychological well-being.

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