July 24, 2001 -- Positive thinking really can make you healthy, it seems.
An optimistic attitude can do wonders for patients' recovery, according to researchers who reviewed 16 studies that looked at patients' attitudes toward health. The studies spanned 30 years and looked at patients' attitudes after surgery. The review appears in the August issue of Canadian Medical Association Journal.
"In each case the better a patient's expectations about how they would do after surgery or some health procedure, the better they did," said author Donald Cole, of the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto.
The review says that the power of positive thinking is real, said ABCNEWS' Medical Correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman on Good Morning America today.
"This mind-body connection that we have been toying with for the past couple of decades really does have hard science behind it," Snyderman said.
Back Pain, Heart Surgery, …
Across a wide range of clinical conditions, from lower back pain to heart surgery, patients who felt they would do well in recovery did, according to Cole. Patients who were scared or pessimistic about their recovery did not recover as quickly as the optimists or as well.
"Less pain [after surgery] was directly associated with better expectations, positive expectations," Cole said.
Cole says the findings suggest several things that employers as well as physicians and family members can do to help a person's recovery.
"If an employee is going off for surgery it could be helpful to ask that employee, 'What do you think is going to happen to you?'" said Cole. "If a person has fears or is feeling pessimistic then it is time to think, 'We better deal with those fears.'"
Dealing with those fears not only helps a person recover but also means a healthier work environment and the ability of that person who is going to surgery to come back to work quicker, said Cole.
Hopes and Fears
"Clinicians should talk to their patients and find out what their hopes and fears are before a procedure," Cole said. "If this were part of the process, recovery expectations could be talked about and then, according to the results of this study, at least, recovery could be better."
But can you decide or make a person have a positive attitude? Can a pessimist become an optimist?
"You can't blame people for their diseases," Snyderman says. "But how you go through your life with the grit and determination to make it through, that you do have control over and that makes a difference."