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Healthy Living: 5 ways to improve mental health

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SEATTLE -- As 2020 gets underway, many of us are taking time to reflect on our lives...and the things in it that cause us to be stressed, anxious and even depressed.

But you can take scientifically validated steps to improve your mental health, and because mind and body are entwined, these behaviors will also improve your overall health.

First, practice optimism. Looking on the bright side of life really is good for you.

According to a study by Boston University of Medicine, optimists have a 35% less chance of dying from heart attack or stroke. They are more likely to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, have stronger immune systems and even live longer. The study found people with the most positive outlook had the greatest odds of living to be 85 or beyond.

Start volunteering. Studies by the National Institutes of Health show that putting the well-being of others before our own, and not expecting anything in return, stimulates the reward centers of the brain.

The feel-good chemicals that flood our brain give us what's called a 'helper's high' and can reduce stress and depression.

Be grateful. According to Frontiers in Psychology, a study conducted on middle school students found that those who practiced gratitude exercises had less behavioral problems.

Experts say one of the best ways to make thankfulness a part of your life is to keep a daily journal. Before you go to bed, jot down any positive experiences you had that day, no matter how small.

Be social. You'll be physically healthier and live longer, according to a Harvard study. The study followed 700 people for 75 years, and found that those who reached out to their friends in high conflict situations, like a divorce or death in the family, were over all healthier.

Finally, find your purpose. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman says a sense of purpose will come from being part of something bigger than ourselves.

He points to religion, family and social causes as ways to increase meaning in our lives.

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