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The science of thought: How changing your thoughts can change your health

Elaina is a Phoenix-based freelance writer, blogger and co-founder of the Kidlee baby book app. Check out her blog, Fun Finds For Mom, for product reviews, recipes and fun activities for moms and kids.

Think your way to a healthier you

We’ve all heard about the power of positive thinking, but can changing your thoughts really impact your health? Can you wipe out anxiety and stress, or even pain and disease, by focusing on the mind-body connection? Recent scientific studies show that our thoughts -- both positive and negative -- have a profound effect on our wellness. Here are some exercises to harness the power of thought to improve your wellbeing.

Woman doing yoga

1Meditate

In the last 20 years, scientists have discovered the phenomenon referred to as neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to change as a result of one's experience. Since the 1990s, the Dalai Lama has been working with neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin to evaluate the effects of meditation on the brain. Davidson's 2004 meditation study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that intense meditation actually changes activity in the regions of the brain associated with anxiety and depression, fear and anger, and the ability of the body to heal itself. "This positive state is a skill that can be trained," Professor Davidson says. "Our findings clearly indicate that meditation can change the function of the brain in an enduring way."

If you're new to meditation, consider checking out a CD from the library or downloading an app from iTunes to get started on the journey of changing your brain for the better.

2Practice yoga

Often referred to as a "moving meditation," yoga focuses on the importance of the breath and the calmness of the mind. If it's relaxation and stress reduction you seek, yoga may be the key to calming your thoughts and relieving anxiety. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital conducted studies showing that yoga may increase levels of the brain chemical GABA, which regulates depression and anxiety. Yoga teaches the brain how to find calmness in the midst of chaos, releasing tension and reducing stress.

3Laugh a little

Scientists don't need to tell us that laughing makes us feel good. It gets our blood pumping, releases endorphins and usually spills out along with warm feelings and happy thoughts. And guess what else? You got it -- it's good for your health, too. According to studies conducted by Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California, humor, mirth and laughter elevate our mood, reduce stress, anxiety and tension and counteract depression and anxiety. So plan a night out with the girls and share some laughs. Soon, you'll be giggling your way to a happier, healthier you.

4Keep a journal

Bottling up your emotions can be a major source of stress. Journaling has been proven to reduce stress by providing an outlet to express our thoughts. According to a 2006 study conducted by James A. Pennebaker of the University of Texas, writing about stressful or traumatic events can bring meaning to the painful experience, resulting in increased calmness and emotional clarity. To get started, choose a journal that suits your taste, decide what time of day best suits your schedule and dedicate 5 to 20 minutes each day to chronicling your thoughts.

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