THE BLOG
01/26/2016 01:25 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

Be Heart Healthy Where It Counts -- In Your Mind

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The current Cheerios TV ad campaign, "Healthy Hearts Start Young, Healthy Hearts Stay Young," with its young Moms and their 5-year-old (approximately) offspring dancing in perfect unison, with unbridled joy and enthusiasm, is not only one of the most adorable ads ever, but it totally has the right idea: healthy hearts do stay young. Or, more accurately put, a healthy heart gives you a terrific platform for a long, happy life.

That being said, how about taking it one step further? How about engaging the power of your mind, as well as the power of a healthy diet?

What you think has enormous impact on your health and well-being. In particular, on your cardiovascular system -- the healthy heart part.

Study after study shows the link between an optimistic and appreciative point of view, and a happy healthy long life. For example, a study that followed the health of 255 medical students for 25 years found that those who were the most hostile had five times greater occurrence of coronary heart disease than those who were not hostile (Barefoot et al, Psychosomatic Medicine, 45:1).

Another study, out of Johns Hopkins, reported that even in adults at risk of heart disease due to their family history, a positive outlook offered the strongest known protection against heart disease--as well as or even better than maintaining an appropriate diet, exercise regimen or body weight (Becker et al., American Heart Assoc. Scientific Sessions, 2001). Research also showed that heart patients who routinely felt more positive emotions had a 20 percent greater likelihood of being alive 11 years later than the heart patients who routinely experience more negative emotions (Siegler et al., Psychosomatic Medicine, 65:5). These are but a few of the many studies that show the tremendous impact that what you think has on your heart.

And yes, the Cheerios ad has it right: starting young matters. Not just with your physical well-being, but starting to think positively--deliberately appreciating your life, yourself and the world around you--when you're young. The famous "Nun study" analyzed the autobiographies of nuns written when the nuns were in their 20s, and then looked at how long each nun lived. The nuns who expressed gratitude, happiness and positive emotions in their 20s lived as much as ten years longer than those who had expressed fewer positive emotions (Danner et al., College of Medicine, University of Kentucky, 2001).

Just in case you thought positivity only applies to nuns, here's one you might not see coming: Clint Eastwood would agree! His attitude alone is undoubtedly a reason why he's still working and thriving at 85. One of his quotes sums up his approach to life: "I don't believe in pessimism. If something doesn't come up the way you want, forge ahead." He's thought that way since his career began.

Pay attention to what you put in your body, absolutely, but also to what you put in your mind. Make it a practice to focus more on what is working in your life than on what is not, more on what makes you happy than on what brings you down, more on who put a smile on your face than on who made you frown.

Like those fantastic Mom-and-kid Cheerio duos, fill your every moment with as much appreciation, joy, gratitude and enthusiasm as you can muster. You'll have not only a healthy heart, but a happy, long-lived one as well.