3 Ways Cultivating Gratitude Can Improve Senior Health

The season of gratitude is in full swing with Thanksgiving and the holidays on fast approach. This is our chance to gather with friends and family, eat excellent food and reflect on all the good things we have going for us. It turns out that doing this isn’t just enjoyable – it’s also great for our health.

“Studies have shown that seniors who practice gratitude on a regular basis are happier, healthier and age better than their less-grateful counterparts,” says Beth Burns, Community Relations Associate at Artisan at Hudson. “Even if practicing gratitude isn’t part of your daily life, it’s easy to get started. Think of it like a muscle that you need to exercise in order to get stronger. By taking time each day to think about things you’re thankful for – even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes – you’ll find that you become a naturally more grateful person.”

Gratitude may be a little harder to find this year, thanks to COVID-19 and the stress and strain it’s brought to many families. It’s possible that your holiday traditions will need to be adapted to keep you and your loved ones safe – and that can make it hard to give thanks during this season. However, it’s more important than ever for us to celebrate the things we’re thankful for and find ways to connect – virtually and in-person. Being grateful at this time of year, no matter how different it may look, can help you and your loved ones close the books on 2020 and jump start a bright future for 2021.

The Benefits of Gratitude

Gratitude may be one of the most affordable and effective secret weapons when it comes to improving your health. It doesn’t cost any money, it doesn’t take a lot of time and the benefits are enormous. Here are three ways gratitude provides overall health.

1. Gratitude builds relationships.

Turns out there’s a reason your parents always said to say, “thank you,” and it’s not just because it’s good manners. Showing gratitude to others makes those individuals feel more kindly towards you and can actually open the door to new friendships and relationships. Staying socially connected is a huge part of senior health, because it reduces loneliness, depression and anxiety. This in turn reduces stress, improves positive habits like exercising and eating right and helps keep brains sharp.

Everyone likes to know that their efforts are appreciated, and taking time out of your day to thank someone – whether through a thank-you note, a quick text or phone call or simply acknowledging someone verbally – makes the other person feel important and recognized. Whenever possible, find ways to practice gratitude towards people in your life, whether that’s the individual holding the door for you, your favorite barista who always remembers your name and favorite coffee blend, or your very best friend who’s always there for you. There’s never a wrong time to tell someone how much they mean and how much you appreciate them, and you may be surprised at how wonderful it makes them – and you – feel.

2. Gratitude improves physical and emotional health.

Recognizing the things you’re grateful for can help knock you out of a rut in terms of your thoughts and emotions. By actively practicing gratitude, you are able to “hijack” negative attitudes and start rerouting your mind and habits into more beneficial emotions and feelings. This also reduces your body’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. In turn, this decreases inflammation, reduces blood pressure and depressive symptoms and leaves you with a calmer, more positive outlook.

Grateful people report feeling fewer aches and pains, and also generally feel happier and healthier than others. It doesn’t hurt that grateful people also report sleeping better at night. As we all know, it’s easier to take care of ourselves when we feel better. Naturally, grateful people are more apt to get exercise, eat right and stay on top of their health – all things that are important for healthy aging.

3. Gratitude makes us happier people.

Did you know that writing down the things we’re grateful for can enhance long-term happiness by 10% or more? Turns out that when people pay attention to the good in their life instead of the bad, they are more likely to be happy, feel positive about their life and improve their overall outlook. Being happier brings a score of benefits, too. Other people enjoy being around happy people, meaning that individuals who are grateful are more socially active and emotionally connected than less-grateful counterparts. Happy people have better mental health and are more emotionally resilient when going through difficult times – they’re better able to get through to the other side and not wallow in anger, sadness or other negative emotions.

And did you know that happy people have an improved chance of keeping cognitive decline at bay? All the things that come from being happy – a better outlook, a better focus on health, social connection and the like – have been proven to help lessen the chance of developing dementia-like symptoms. Even for those who do have dementia, happiness (and the benefits it provides) can help slow or reduce the intensity of those symptoms, improving quality of life.

Easy Ways to Practice Gratitude

Write it down. Many experts suggest having a “gratitude journal” that’s kept by your bed. Spend ten minutes each night writing down the things you’re grateful for, and you’ll find yourself feeling calm and optimistic as you drift off to sleep.

Reach out to others. Saying “thank you” to one person every day will get you in the habit of being grateful on a regular basis. It may feel unnatural at first, but trust us – once you start thanking and appreciating people around you, it will soon become second nature.

Meditate. Meditation ties into gratitude and better mental health because it helps individuals let go of negative thoughts and emotions and provides techniques for managing stress. Take five minutes each day (or longer) to meditate and practice being in the moment. By removing yourself from the stress and worry that plagues your every day, you’re better able to relax, focus on the present and recognize all the good things you have going for you.