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The Role Of The Mind In Health and Longevity
Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD and Isadora R. Rosenbaum, MA

The cure of many diseases is unknown to physicians...because they are ignorant of the whole. For the part can never be well unless the whole is well.

Good health is one of the greatest assets we have in life, for without it one's future is uncertain. The mind plays a key role in promoting good health. If your health is impaired, through an accident or illness, life may become compromised by subsequent debilitation. Some of the new problems you may face are economic, social, emotional, psychological, or potential loss of independence.

Recently there has been a shift in the philosophy on health care to a more holistic way of medical care as suggested by Plato a few thousand years ago. You can't separate the mental from the physical since they are related as part of the whole body. Health care is like a juggler trying to balance many acts -- the medical, physical, environmental, psychological, and nutritional in an attempt to keep the heart, brain and body healthy. Many authorities feel that 50-80% of illnesses are stress-related, for example: high blood pressure, colds, depression or certain skin diseases.

Recent research at the University of Utah evaluated the role stress during the recent economic depression. There were more fatal strokes and heart attacks than were predicted.

Other studies have tried to relate stress to a decrease in the function of the immune system. Such research is ongoing and confirmation is thus far lacking. If proven true, an immune defect could precede many disease processes.

There is a relationship between anger, stress and disease. One of the secrets of good health and longevity is knowing how to control stress. -- See Stress and Survival and Reducing Stress in the Stressed-Out World of Cancer

We have known for over 2,000 years that there is a relationship between the Mind, Body, and one's health. Galen in the second century wrote of melancholy and disease. It is an accepted fact that attitude and will to live can in part determine one's future. How one accepts and deals with adversity, or controls stress and anger determines one's coping skills.

The writer Norman Cousins found a means to cope with his incapacitating arthritis and used his inner strength to not only to fight his way back to good health, but also to increase his longevity.

Attitude does have a major impact on your life and has become one of the important ingredients in living well and longer. It is in part shaped by past experiences, education, and by one's failures and successes. A positive attitude can help increase your ability to cope with life's problems or with a disease. We have a chance each day when we get up to make this a great day and achieve what we wish, or to merely accept events which occur and not try to improve our lot or seek new goals. Some things in life are more difficult to change. Throughout life, there is a pattern of living through which we evolve and grow.

Thus, in summing up, how we live is in part controlled by our attitude towards life which becomes the pivotal point that gives direction to our future.

The Will To Live
The will to live is nurtured by a positive attitude. A negative attitude can diminish or undermine the mind by fear, anger, or loss of self-esteem. These emotions when unresolved can lead to hopelessness, futility, resignation and the loss of the will to live. Here a few examples.

The phrase frightened to death is more than a figure of speech. An early reference to stress and fear is recorded in the Bible, Book of Acts, chapter 5, when Ananias and his wife Sapphire suddenly die after being castigated by Peter for withholding from the disciples some of the money paid for the sale of land. This has been attributed to a sudden coronary death from stress. In primitive societies people have been literally frightened to death by the imposition of a curse or spell, known as bone pointing. When a person who believed in the phenomenon was boned, he withdrew from the world, stopped eating and waited to die. Death could take place in a few weeks. Such deaths have not been explained medically, even with an autopsy, but it seems apparent that the paralyzing effect of fear played an important role. The victim's fear stems from ignorance and superstition. He has been encouraged to believe in the power of the curse. Thus ignorance and superstition play a role in how the mind functions to help or hinder a person in living.

Persons with a positive attitude are able to be open, to talk about their problems with their family, friends, and physicians. They feel good about themselves, and generally have been that way all their lives. It is often very hard to change lifelong patterns such as psychological reaction to daily living.

The will to live is therefore a spiritual emotional and ethical commodity. It needs nurturing and development and, if controlled can strengthen a person's resolve to survive. We soon discovered that the mind plays an important role in trying to control life that there is a direct correlation between a person's mental and emotional state.

We measure successes and failures in life by our standards and ideals as we strive for goals in work or health. Just to survive makes for a shallow life. Victory is for those who have the courage and stamina to fight and endure each of life's many struggles and who always have goals and the satisfaction of aspiring to reach them whether they succeed or fail. This is the challenge of life.

The answer lies in your attitude towards life. Milton, though blind, wrote great poetry, and Beethoven, though deaf, wrote beautiful music he would never hear. We can help ourselves and others live better if we:
- Live in the present and in the future and not in the past.
- Set reasonable goals as to what can be accomplished.
- Accept new problems and attempt to solve them through understanding, and increased awareness.
- Try to resolve depression and negative emotions.
- Actively do things to help yourself and others.
- Learn techniques to relax and practice mind control by using simple methods to calm down, such as yoga or Tai Chi or practice biofeedback.

A good example of how the will to live is encouraged and one recovers one's mental strength has been demonstrated when exhausted soldiers march home after a rigorous day. They suddenly begin to march and sing in cadence. They have a revival of their mood and spirit and new or reserve energies and strength appear. So, if the person who becomes exhausted from problems of daily living can also muster such reserve energies; when channeled appropriately, the results can be very gratifying.

An Easy Relaxation Program - Relaxation exercises from Mark J. Doolittle, PhD
First, either sit or lie down and get as comfortable as you can. (Initially, it's useful to eliminate as many distractions as possible. A quiet, darkened room helps. As you practice, letting go becomes easier and easier even in less than ideal settings.) Squirm and stretch your muscles a little until you feel more relaxed. Then let your eyes gently close. Let your legs uncross and let your arms just lie by your side.

Next, take a nice slow, deep breath through your nose, feeling your lungs fill up and your stomach expand. When your lungs are full, hold the air in for just a second, then slowly let the air go out, feeling yourself letting go all over. When you feel the air exhaled, don't hurry to inhale, just slowly take another smooth, deep breath, feel yourself fill up, hold it for a second, then slowly and completely let it all go, and really let do. Get lost and absorbed in simple listening to your breathing and feel your body letting go. Let the process go on for a few more breaths, then just let your breathing go. Let the process go on for a few more breaths, then just let your breathing go naturally without trying to take especially deep breaths.

Next, let your attention drift down to, your toes. Slowly and gently tense the muscles in your toes. Become aware of how the tension feels, then let the toes relax, and feel the difference. Notice the sensations you feel in the toes as you let them relax.

Next, repeat this same cycle of tensing and relaxing with each major muscle group as you move up your body. Just as you became absorbed in your breathing, get lost in feeling and enjoying the sensations you produce in directly relaxing all your muscles, moving up your calves, thighs, hips, stomach, back, shoulders, arms, neck, jaws, eyes, and so on.

After going through each muscle group separately, stretch your arms and legs out and tense up as many muscles at once as possible feet, legs, hips, stomach, back, and so on. Then let your body go limp and relaxed taking a few deep, slow breaths. If you notice any residual tension in any part of your body, repeat the tense-and-relax cycle there to see if you can loosen up that area.

Finally, before opening your eyes, take a brief journey around your body, sensing how it feels to be deeply relaxed. Become familiar with the feeling. Then, when you are ready, take another deep breath and slowly open your eyes.

Note: Slow, deep breathing and overall muscular relaxation are perhaps the two easiest and most direct ways to calm down. Most of us breathe sixteen to twenty times a minute, with slow, deep, breathing we cut that in half or less. Combined with muscle relaxation, the ultimate effect is to slow down your heart rate, lower blood pressure, relax muscles, increase blood flow to the hands and feet-in short, to produce the opposite of the flight-or-fight response.

The relaxation technique can be modified in many ways. An often helpful maneuver is to silently repeat a particular sound, word, or phrase in rhythm with breathing, such as, I am.. as you breathe in) ...relaxed (as you breathe out).

The key is to keep it simple and enjoyable. If the process isn't enjoyable, the chances are good it won't be effective, and eventually won't be done. If you make it a chore it will tend to maintain or increase tension. Stress reduction should be viewed along with food, sleep, and exercise as a vital element in maintaining health.

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