© Glowimages – model used for illustrative purpose
© Glowimages – model used for illustrative purpose

Five tips for all-round better health

#1 Hope
Hope is the stuff of change, recovery and healing, according to Dr Shane Lopez, author of the new book Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others,.

"Hope is half optimism. The other half is the belief in the power that you can make it so", writes Lopez.

Hopeful people make an investment in the future that pays off in the present: in the way they eat, exercise, conserve energy, take care of themselves and stick to their treatment plan. He suggests that this sort of "change in mind-set has the power to alter neurochemistry".

It takes work to keep your thinking in tune with what's good around you. For me, trust that 'good will win' lifts me out of the daily grind of thinking that what I see and hear is all there is to us, into a mental realm a bit higher.

#2 Show your gratitude
Studies show that saying 'thanks' reduces stress, and giving back through volunteering is good for your heart, in more ways than one.

For example, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that volunteers who felt more empathy and put in more time and effort not only experienced greater mental health but also better cardiovascular health.

Research cited by Dr Stephen Post in his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People also found that giving in high school predicts good physical and mental health in late adulthood; generous behaviour reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk; giving quells anxiety; giving to others helps facilitate self-forgiveness and increases your longevity; giving is so powerful that sometimes even just 'thinking' charitable thoughts helps us.

This could be the right moment to volunteer to do Meals on Wheels or tuck shop duty, offer to coach your friend in maths or put up your hand to coach the soccer team …. and give thanks. It could not only help others, but also help you.

#3 Love
We need to move past our cultural preconceptions that sometimes equate love only with infatuation, sexual desire or fairytale endings. Love is kindness and compassion.

"Love literally [makes] people healthier", reported Dr Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina.

"People tend to liken their emotions [like loving] to the weather, viewing them as uncontrollable," said Fredrickson. This research shows not only that our emotions are controllable, but also that we can take the reins of our daily emotions and steer ourselves toward better physical health.

Love - moments of warmth, connection and openness sprinkled throughout your day - holds the key to improving our mental and physical health as well as lengthening our life.

#4 Forgive
It's one of the hardest things to do, but if you do it will make a big difference to your happiness, your relationships and your health.

For example, researchers from the University of California in San Diego found that people who let go of their anger could decrease the physical effects of stress.

Forgiveness is aptly described as 'a change of heart'. Iowa doctor Katherine Hurst MD says, "I had a patient who went through a rough divorce and it took her years to get over it. She was on antidepressants, blood pressure meds and sleeping pills. When she finally forgave him and forgot about the marriage she was able to go off all of them".

#5 Meditate
Take some time to meditate, or contemplate, each morning, even if only for a few minutes. Studies have shown that prayer, meditation and attendance at religious services all benefit health in ways that scientists cannot fully explain.

"... [meditating] even five or 10 minutes, say a couple of times a day can start to produce significant benefits", affirms Dr Craig Hassad, internationally recognised expert in Mindfulness Meditation, now a resident at Monash University Medical School. And it seems that many can now attest to the health benefits of doing just that.

The inclusion of meditation or prayer as part of our health care is increasingly being recommended by doctors to treat both mental and physical illness. In time, could meditation be seen as 'the new normal'?

I find that using only one of these fabulous five tips brightens my day and makes me feel a whole lot better - renewed and revitalised - which points to the proposition that we're much more than just a body.

It's clear that these five tips are mental change agents that empower us and make us happier and more fulfilled.

Growing numbers of people are seeing how mental approaches like this also lead to all round better physical and mental health.

Kay Stroud speaks from experience in the mind-body field, especially as it relates to spirituality and health. She's a regular blogger on APN media and also represents Christian Science to media and government in Northern Australia @KayJStroud