Maybe it happened at mile 22 while running your first marathon. Or maybe it was when everyone except you fell victim to the office flu bug. At some point, most of us have successfully used mental fortitude in the face of a physical obstacle. But is there any scientific basis for “mind over matter” beyond our anecdotal experiences? Recent research suggests yes. Here are a few studies that give credence to the catch phrase.

A negative mood during medical treatment could bring about unfavorable outcomes

Negative thinking during medical procedures could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Before having a catheter inserted into one of their blood vessels, patients were asked to assess their mood. About 22 percent of those who were feeling negative—which qualified as stress, fear or hostility—experienced high blood pressure, post-operative bleeding or an abnormally slow heart rate compared to 12 percent of those whose feelings were neutral or positive. Does that mean you have to meet all future catheters with abounding excitement? Not quite. Just ditch the negative thoughts. “You don't need to have a chipper, cheery attitude prior to your procedure. You just have to overcome negative emotions and get to a neutral level,” said the lead researcher.

Having a strong “sense of purpose” in life lowers risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality

Believing you have positive contributions to make could protect your heart and extend your life. One study analyzed how strong participants perceived their “usefulness to others” to be and then followed the duration of their lives. The mortality rate was about one-fifth lower for participants whose sense of purpose was stronger and more positive than their counterparts.

To age well, change how you think about aging

Aging has gotten a bad rap over the years and researchers are setting out to change that. One study led by Yale University found that those who associated aging with “opportunity and growth” as opposed to “decline or disability” showed improved physical function and vitality going into their golden years. Conversely, those who had negative perceptions showed weakened physical function.

Whether you’re about to step foot into a hospital for a medical procedure or are on the precipice of turning an age you’d rather not admit to, leave the negative thoughts behind. It might just buy you a longer, higher quality life. In what other ways has thinking positively improved your well-being?



  1. HealthDay: A Patient's Mood During Medical Treatment Could Affect the Outcome
  2. ScienceDaily: Sense of Purpose in Life Linked to Lower Mortality and Cardiovascular Risk
  3. The Wall Street Journal: To Age Well, Change How You Feel About Aging