Excerpt from: 3 Heart-Health Perks of Living a Life of Purpose
I want to talk about having a purpose in life and how it influences health. Having a sense of meaning and direction is critical for psychological well-being. In fact, it is considered one of six key elements in a psychologically healthy life, according to researchers. The other five are autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, and self-acceptance.
Here’s what purpose can do for your health:
A Life of Purpose Lowers Your Risk of Death
In a study of 7,108 patients, researchers in Rochester, New York, looked at the impact of having a sense of purpose on longevity. They also wanted to see if purpose was significant when the other key elements of psychological well-being were met. The authors found that risk of death increased by 15 percent to 33 percent in those who felt they did not have a purpose in life, even if other key elements of psychological health were present. The power of this health risk was highlighted when the authors found that in every age group from 20 to over 80 not having a purpose in life increased risk. This study teaches us two things. First, having a purpose in life is critical for healthy aging. Second, if we have lost ours, finding it again is of uttermost importance.
A Life of Purpose Lowers Your Stroke Risk
A recent study provided some understanding of the health risks in those without a feeling of purpose in life. This study…published in 2015 in the journal Stroke) included people participating in the Rush Memory and Aging Project at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Over many years, researchers collected information regarding quality of life and psychological well-being. After participants died, the researchers looked into the brains of these people to understand the association between psychological health and organic disease. People who had identified a purpose in life had a 46 percent lower risk of having had unidentified strokes. This risk persisted when accounting for all stroke risk factors, including a prior known stroke or narrowing of the brain arteries. The Rush study emphasizes the role of purpose in keeping your brain healthy and functional.
This is only one such study to link purpose and brain health. Other studies have found that people who identify with a purpose in life are less like to develop Alzheimer’s disease, frailty, or disabilities.
A Life of Purpose Cuts Your Heart Attack Risk
You’re probably wondering how I am going to bring this around to the heart. At the recent American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle scientific sessions, researchers from Mount Sinai Heart and Health System in New York City presented data from a meta-analysis of more than 137,000 people. They reported that a high sense of purpose is associated with:
- 23 percent reduction in death
- 19 percent reduced risk of heart attack
In looking back at [some of my] patients, my mind fills with regret. I should have recognized immediately the consequences of what [they] told me about not having a purpose. I also should have helped [them] realize [their] worth and identify a purpose. I could have done better…
David Archuleta, in a song entitled “Glorious,” beautifully explains how all of us can find our purpose.
There are times when you might feel aimless
You can’t see the places where you belong
But you will find that there is a purpose
It’s been there within you all along, and when you’re near it
You can almost hear it.
(Chorus) It’s like a symphony. Just keep listening
And pretty soon you’ll start to figure out your part
Everyone plays a piece and there are melodies
In each one of us, oh, it’s glorious
Finding Purpose in Life
If you’re struggling to find purpose in life or know somebody who is, these simple approaches may help. I am not an expert, but they have been sources of strength for me.
- Reach out to others. Loneliness is a powerful driver of self-doubt and despair.
- Live a service-filled life. You will find great strength and a sense of purpose in helping others.
- Ask yourself what you love and what you draw inspiration from in your life. This may be friends, family, God, nature, or a combination of these. Focus and schedule your life so these things can routinely surround you.
- This is easier said than done for a lot of us. However, I believe it is part of aging and maturing in a healthy manner. I had a great opportunity for self-acceptance when my high school football coach told me, “You would be really good if you had talent.” When we recognize our individual value and worth, it is much easier to identify a purpose.
T. Jared Bunch, MD directs heart rhythm research at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah, and is the medical director for heart rhythm services for the Intermountain Healthcare network. Be sure to follow Dr. Bunch on twitter.