24 Nov 2015

Surprise! Giving Thanks Improves Your Health – Here Are 5 Ways

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Thanksgiving is around the corner, and its main focus is on giving gratitude for all we have.  Of course the other focus is on the food, glorious food. While it’s a good thing that the high-fat, high-calorie, high-cholesterol, high-sugar menu of Thanksgiving is limited to once a year, surprisingly, the reason behind commemorating the holiday – gratitude – is something that is beneficial for your health year round. That’s right: Giving thanks is good for your health.  

Why is feeling grateful associated with improved health? Here are some 5 top reasons.

1. The Attitude of Gratitude.  The age-old adages of “count your blessings” and “the richest man is the one who appreciates what he has” can be backed up with scientific research.  One prominent reference for the topic of gratitude’s effect on health is Dr. Robert Emmons’ Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). In researching this topic, Emmons concluded that gratitude is a choice that can be made habit  – especially with prayers of thanksgiving, and keeping a written gratitude journal.

2. Taking Better Care. People are more likely to take better care of their own health when they appreciate their lives as well as those in their social network.  In fact, a 2006 study conducted by professors Michael E. McCullough, and Robert A. Emmons (mentioned above), indicated that “The gratitude-group participants experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness…and spent significantly more time exercising (nearly 1.5 hr more per week) than those in the [non-gratitude] group.”

3. Releases Feel-Good Hormones. Feelings of gratitude are directly associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine, one of the so-called “feel-good” hormones. It is also dubbed the “reward” hormone because if you have some, you want more. With regards to gratitude feelings, a dopamine release means that thanks will beget more thanks, simply because it feels good.These conclusions came from a 2009 NIH studyand reported in the magazine Psychology Today.

 4. Optimism Raises Immunity. Positive thinking can even keep disease at bay.  In two studies cited by the popular medical website, WebMD, people who make a habit of expressing gratitude “tend to be more optimistic, a characteristic that researchers say boosts the immune system” and “also has a positive health impact on people with compromised health.”It turns out that the whole idea of looking at the bright side is not just mental – it affects you physically for the positive, as well.

5. Lowers Stress.  Elizabeth Scott, a stress management expert, says that “cultivating a sense of gratitude can help you maintain a more positive mood in daily life and contribute to greater emotional well-being and bring social benefits as well.”  Focusing on the more positive angles allows you to “dwell less on negative or stressful events.” In other words, keeping a positive attitude leads to lower stress.  And we all know that lower stress is one of the keys to overall good health.

It’s easy to be thankful on Thanksgiving, because we have one whole day dedicated to it. And now, knowing the above, we have even one more thing to be grateful for – gratitude itself.  When you implement a daily dose of gratitude instead of limiting it once a year, you increase your chances of living a healthily. Balance that in with healthy eating and physical activity (with the occasional Thanksgiving-type feast for celebration’s sake!) and you’ll have maintain a healthy lifestyle.

At Rockaway Care Center, we are focused on gratitude all of the time because our goal is to improve your health as much as possible – that’s why our residents are here. Seeing progress in all of our recovery departments, and health maintenance  – if not improvements – in our elderly population gives us the greatest pleasure. Here’s to feeling grateful for our health, knowing that gratitude itself helps us be even healthier.

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