How Attitude Affects Health

By Sheila Collins

Our bodies are both wonderful and complicated. Our health sometimes seems to have a mind of its own, but it is also very much affected by our choices — including our attitude.

Attitude is more than mere mood. Attitude reflects what we believe about ourselves and the world around us. While some of us seem naturally predisposed toward the positive or negative ends of the spectrum, we do have some conscious power over our attitude.

Way back in the 20th century when computer programming was taking off, programmers had a phrase about the quality of their work that we can apply today to how we think about our health: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

That phrase certainly applies to our diet and other health habits. But it’s also very relevant to our attitude. Research by Dr. Laura Kubzansky, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, revealed that outlook and emotional vitality affect our health. As she explained in a Harvard Health Publishing article, “Your outlook — having a sense of optimism and purpose — seems to be predictive of health outcomes.”

The more we think negative thoughts, the more those thoughts can be reflected in our underlying wellbeing. Likewise, when we deliberately steer our minds toward the positive, our bodies respond. It’s not as simple as just thinking ourselves out of an illness, of course. But we can certainly think ourselves into poor health if we allow anger, anxiety or worry to consume us.

The University of Minnesota's Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing reported that negative “attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can create chronic stress, which upsets the body's hormone balance, depletes the brain chemicals required for happiness, and damages the immune system.”

Wellness involves making deliberate choices about our behavior, our goals, our habits — and taking ownership of them. We can be our own worst enemy, or our own best friend. The more we connect with positive people and healthy influences around us, the better our chances of making choices that are good for us.

Wellness also sometimes requires us to acknowledge that we need help with certain aspects of our health. That can be relatively easy when we have, say, the flu — but sometimes not so easy if we’re struggling with chronically negative feelings and thoughts. Mental and emotional health is closely linked with our physical health, though, and shouldn’t be overlooked or undervalued. Consider talking with a professional if you feel like you’re frequently down in the dumps, angry and aggravated, or tense and stressed.

The Bakken Center also reported that scientist “Barbara Fredrickson has shown that positive emotions broaden our perspective of the world (thus inspiring more creativity, wonder, and options), and build over time, creating lasting emotional resilience and flourishing.”

One resource you could use to help you develop a take-charge attitude toward your health: the Let’s Be Well box. Produced through a partnership between AARP, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, the box is packed with information and tools that support you in the process of taking the garbage out and bringing the good stuff in. Learn more at And remember: Your next step is the first step to wellness.

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