How your choice of words can impact how long you live

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, July 24, 2018

There’s a new meaning to the phrase, “Watch your language.”

Of course, it still implies to the use of vulgar language that is typically unacceptable — unless you’re a so-called comedienne on some little-watched cable TV show. In our everyday lives, however, it’s also important to know that all our words have both meaning and power.

A Stanford University research project has found that language and a positive mindset can improve brain health. People who are generally upbeat and happy tend to use more positive words in their daily conversations, and our choice of words can impact how well we age and how well we recover from illness.

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Perhaps some of you are old enough to remember a TV show in the early 1950s that featured Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who discussed the power of positive thinking.

It seems that a positive outlook, seeing people and situations in their best light, is a valuable practice. Using the right words in our speaking makes us feel better, is usually better received by those to whom we speak and has the unique benefit to us of improving our longevity.

There’s an old adage that you are what you think, and we certainly reflect who we are when we speak to people in our daily lives. If you focus on believing you’re going to fall or get sick, the possibility of falling or becoming ill is more likely to occur.

The reason is simple. If you keep programming your brain to expect the negative side of life’s challenges, the brain, which controls all your body systems and skills, may just buy into your negativity and give you just what you asked for with your negative thoughts.

Conversely, the thoughts and words we use can also create a better mindset and outlook that helps to program our brains to keep us healthier, safer and promote a more positive aging experience. The Stanford University studies focused on the nurturing of optimism in people who were facing serious personal challenges, and the results of those studies clearly indicate a relationship and interplay between optimism and physical health.

Most of us have had to deal with illness, injury and, of course, various levels of pain, and when asked by those concerned as to how we’re doing, it’s okay to respond with a truthful answer of how you’re feeling.

But to dwell on the negative — the pain or debilitation — is to reinforce it.

What might be a better approach is to adopt the attitude of the nursery story of “The Little Engine That Could.”

One might say in response to such an inquiry, “Right now, my back (leg, hip, headache etc.) hurts, but I’m getting through it and I’ll be better tomorrow. I’m not going to let this get me down.”   

As the authors of the Stanford study said, “Positive thinking, brought about by positive language and positive visualization can be a powerful force in cultivating optimism. This optimism makes for a healthier mental outlook on life [and] that can translate into better resilience and recovery when faced with illness, and ultimately can extend our lifespan. Attitudinal healing really can lead to real physical healing and a better quality of life.”

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging. He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease.” He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or at