Mastering Longevity - Mental Health
Your Mind and Longevity
For many years, most scientists claimed that your mental state had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on your health. To scientists, if you couldn't measure it, then it didn't exist.
In recent years though, some scientists have grudgingly accepted that mental health can affect lifespans. In 1973, a doctor (Dr. Ronald Grossarth-Maticek) surveyed 500 elderly residents in Germany for happiness and well being. He then checked up on these residents 21 years later. The results were astounding. The 60% who scored the highest were 30 times more likely to be alive and well than the 40% who scored the lowest.
Could cause and effect be mixed up here? Maybe the people who were the healthiest felt the best. Luckily for us, he also ran a second experiment on another 1200 people who scored poorly on his tests. He randomly split them into two groups. One group receive some mental health care spread out over a year. The other group received nothing. 13 years later, 68% of the group that received care were still alive versus only 16% of the group that received no mental health care.
In 2006, a report by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), stated that on the average severely mentally ill people died 25 years earlier.
Your Mind - Both Cause and Effect
With many areas of scientific inquiry, we have to be careful to separate cause and effect. The mind however is both cause and effect when it comes to longevity. To make things even more complicated, we can have feedback effects between mind and body. We have to look at the mind and body as a whole system.
Mentally ill people do things that directly affect the health of their body. For instance while about 22% of the general population smokes, over 75% of the mentally ill smoke. Drug and alcohol use is more prevalent amongst them. They often fail to eat and care for themselves properly. Suicide and murder rates are also much higher. Lastly, the mentally often fail to accurately communicate health problem to their doctors, resulting in poor care. Even when they are diagnosed properly, they may fail to take medication as required.
Poor health can affect the mind too, though. Our body produces serotonin from L-tryptophan. Serotonin is converted to melatonin while we sleep. This means that bad diet can result in low levels of serotonin, resulting in depression. Low levels of serotonin can result in low levels of melatonin. Low levels of melatonin can accelerate the aging process. So in this case poor mental and physical health are the result of a bad diet.
Many people with mental health issues suffer from PTSD, anxieties, phobia, and manias. All of these problems can result in poor sleep, once again resulting in low levels of melatonin and rapid aging.
Investing in Yourself - Mental Health
Investing in your mental health can pay great dividends. Here are some suggestions:
- Socialize: There has been research done on married vs. single, church goer vs. non goers, having children vs. not having children, charity work vs. not charity work, and more. All of these studies have one thing in common and that is they show that people who socialize with other people live longer.
- Own a Pet: Owning a pet or even some plants can provide a purpose for some people. I personally have an aquarium with guppies and a cat. Watching the guppies feed can be very relaxing. My cat forces me to do about 5 minutes of work every day for its feeding and care. She often solicits me for a scratch behind her ears or under her chin. Research has shown that pet owners live longer than those who don't own pets.
- Eat a Healthy Diet: A healthy diet is required for the proper manufacture of important neurotransmitters.
- Get Some Exercise: Some studies have shown that exercise can be as beneficial for depression as anti-depressants. Exercise also helps to improve blood flow to the brain. If you live in a sunny climate, this can also help your mood by allowing your eyes to receive more light.
- Get Proper Sleep: Sleeping is important for our mental rejuvenation. A lot of scientists believe that the brain engages in important reorganization of ideas and memories during REM.
- Get Some Sunshine: Many people are heavily affected by the lack of sufficient light especially in some parts of the world. Drab rainy states like Oregon and Washington have higher rates of depression and suicide than other states. If you live in a place without much sunshine, you might want to invest in some high powered lamps. After I bought a 1000 watt halogen light when I lived in Oregon, I noticed that my mood improved considerably.
Books for the Mind - Mental Health
I have read a lot of spiritual and mental health books in my days. These are the books that I have found to be the most beneficial:
- The Road Less Traveled: Written by Scott M. Peck, this is probably the defining book in spiritual growth regardless of your religious views or philosophy. The role of pain in spiritual or mental growth is one important message. Another message concerns the stages of personal growth throughout our life. Adversity will make us stronger.
- The Psychology of Self-Esteem: Written by Nathaniel Brandon, the main message of this book is that the foundation to self esteem is to think for yourself. If you think for yourself rather than take ideas on faith, you will make mistakes, but with experience you will get better. The man who takes a great deal of facts on faith will be unable to critically analyze conflicting facts. The inability to trust in your own mind will lead to ever growing anxiety and depression. Other books by Nathaniel Brandon build upon this essential concept.
- The Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: Somewhat long winded, but nevertheless, I have read this book twice so far in my life. Different people will find different things in this book and in a way that is the point. I found the story of his spiritual transformation and how reality can be perceived in many different ways to be the main message for me.
Conclusion - Investing in your Mind
Investing in your mental health is probably the best investment you can make. A strong and healthy mind will result in better health habits. As your mental health improves, you will have less anxiety and sleep better. Your overall joy in living will improve. You will concentrate better and start making other improvements in your life. You will overcome adversity easier. Ultimately, everything will be better. You just can't beat an investment with a great return like that!