Smile - a lot. It just might save your life.

The Doctors | 12/21/2011, 7 p.m.


One of the keys to a longer, healthier life just might be your smile. In a recent study of more than 6,000 adults over 50, scientists found that those with sunny dispositions had a significantly reduced risk of stroke. Optimistic people tend to make healthier choices about diet and exercise, researchers speculate; some findings also suggests positive thinking has a direct influence on how well your body works.

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States; heart disease is the No. 1 killer, and a growing body of evidence shows staying positive may help prevent that, too. Plus, heart patients who are optimistic about their treatment and recovery are more likely to live longer than patients with lower expectations, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center. The glass-half-full approach doesn't help only your heart; research also suggests it may boost your mood, immune system and longevity.You're not going to go from Debbie Downer to Pollyanna overnight, but you can learn think more positively. Here are four strategies to help brighten your outlook and boost your health:

Shift one perspective at a time.
Pick a part of your life you tend to cast in an unfavorable light -- your daily commute, for example -- and focus on fixing your thinking there first. Instead of working yourself into a tizzy sitting in traffic, think of it as uninterrupted alone time to plan something fun for the upcoming weekend or as more time to listen to your favorite radio station.

Let yourself laugh.
You'll feel less stressed, even during difficult times. And that may help protect against heart attacks, research suggests.

Hang out with happy people.
It'll rub off on you -- plus, those are the friends you can depend on when you're feeling down.

Negative thoughts, positive talk.
Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to someone else. And when a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and give it a positive twist. For example, instead of thinking "I've never used this computer program before," tell yourself it's a perfect chance to learn something new.

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.