OK, there aren’t really any secrets to health and longevity but are there are lots of important findings you probably don’t know, and lots of widespread myths and traps. Daily headlines about new health findings are often misleading when you don’t have the full context. I’m a scientist who has been studying psychology and health for three decades, and I will be explaining health issues and findings in terms the intelligent non-expert can understand. My special focus will be on the relations of mental and physical health. Welcome to my blog.

What is the relationship between the mind and the body? Can we really think good thoughts and make ourselves healthier? If so, how could this work? In recent years, these questions have evolved into a challenging and often acrimonious debate between certain biomedically-oriented researchers and more holistically-oriented physicians and health psychologists.

Those in the biomedical niche focus on cancer cells, blocked arteries, and impaired metabolism. They demand evidence that mental states can cause disease or promote a cure. In other words, they want to see whether thinking good thoughts can rev up the body’s immune system and other physiological defenses in a way that shrinks tumors, busts clots, and regulates hormones. They may belittle “voodoo medicine.” On the other side, the more holistically-oriented health practitioners are often smugly satisfied with studies showing that individuals who are less depressed, less angry, less socially isolated, and more optimistic stay healthier and live longer. The holistic healers may belittle the narrow-minded technicians, who over-simplify the nature of healing.

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Search for a mental health professional near you.When the debate is framed in these stark terms, there is no way to resolve it. The fact of the matter is that good mental health involves much more than “good thoughts.” People who are mentally healthy and well-adjusted are also usually those who are successful at work, have meaningful friendships, sleep soundly, care about what they eat and drink, and are well-integrated into their communities. That is, it’s a waste of time to debate whether good “mental” health causes good “physical” health. In many ways, mental health and physical health are the two sides of the same coin. All of us stumble at times, and some illnesses are random, tragic, and not at all the fault of the individual. But many of us can set ourselves onto healthier life paths that greatly increase the odds of maintaining good health and recovering from illness.

Ultimately, what most people care about is how they can stay healthy, recover quickly from illness, and live a long and productive life. When the question is framed this way, it turns out that there is lots of evidence for psychological patterns that help some individuals stay on healthy paths. Rather than debate whether or not thinking good thoughts can cure disease, we need to bring together biomedical knowledge of disease processes with psychological understanding of human behavior patterns as people develop and age. Just as the human body is complex, the paths to good health are variable and often complex, but they are understandable! We don’t yet have all the answers, but we do know the general outline of health maintenance. You can’t will yourself to good health, but as we will see, you don’t have to obsess about stress, eat like a rabbit, or worry about worrying.