Studies Find a Sense of Purpose May Prolong Your Life

Studies Find a Sense of Purpose May Prolong Your Life

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

According to a recent study published in JAMA Current Open, having a sense of purpose in life, whatever it may be, can mean the difference between an early grave or a long life span.

Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health analyzed data from nearly 7,000 individuals over 50-years-old and concluded that “stronger purpose in life was associated with decreased mortality”. They believe that “purposeful living may have health benefits”. The research was gathered from individuals who participated in the American Health and Retirement Study (HRS) long-term research program that gathered data from a cross-section of subjects over time.

The original research conducted in 2006 measured participants’ psychological well-being, their physical health and, subsequently, causes of death by 2010. The data collected during this period found that those individuals who demonstrated within their psychological profile a lack of purpose were more likely to die than those who had “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals”.

The study summarized that individuals who lacked purpose in life were more than twice as likely to die as those individuals who had a meaningful goal or aim to achieve and strive for. In fact, a sense of purpose was key in terms of longevity, rather than gender, race, or education, and more important for decreasing the risk of death from drinking, smoking, or infrequent exercise.

Researchers discovered, regardless of ones passion in life, longevity improves with purpose. So, it appears it doesn’t actually matter what drives an individual, be it devotion towards a hobby, or watching their children and grandchildren succeed and grow into adulthood, or loving the work they do. The important thing is simply having something that makes them excited about life and drives them.

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The study also notes that it’s never too late to gain purpose in life, no matter how old one may be. “There are a number of interventions that have been developed with the goal of improving life purpose,” the researchers write.

In previous analyses, researches have found that volunteering, well-being therapy, and meditation have all shown to cultivate a greater sense of purpose, improve quality of life, and influence physical health.

Professor Alan Rozanski at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, although not directly involved in this particular study, has nevertheless researched the relationship between life purpose and physical health. The professor acknowledged, “Just like people have basic physical needs, like to sleep and eat and drink, they have basic psychological needs.”

He went on to add, “The need for meaning and purpose is number one. It’s the deepest driver of well-being there is.”

Rozanski conducted his own study in 2016 which was published in “Psychosomatic Medicine”. In his research, Rozanski used data from 10 different studies to showcase that strong life purpose was associated with reduced risk of mortality and cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or stroke.

According to another survey, “Transition to Retirement and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease”, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2012, researches studied 5,422 individuals for a period of 10 years and found that those who retired early were 40% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those individuals still working. The increased risk factor was greatest during the first 5 years after retirement.

Although these studies may differ somewhat on methodology, they “all conclude” that having a life purpose actually prolongs their life.