Finding Your Purpose Can Save Your Life

Finding Your Purpose Can Save Your Life

It’s never too late to discover your purpose in life, it may even help you live longer.

It can be easy to get caught up in the motions of your daily activities. Maybe you get up, get dressed and head to work. Or maybe your morning consists of making your kids breakfast before shuffling them off to school.

But why do you do these things? The answers may seem obvious, but it’s possible your sense of purpose, or the reason you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, stretches beyond these monotonous tasks.

According to Blue Zones’ Power 9 principles, knowing your sense of purpose can add up to seven years to your life. One 14-year study found those with a greater sense of purpose had lower mortality rates, regardless of race, age and employment status.

The same study suggests a sense of purpose is linked to longevity in all people, young and old, so realizing your purpose early in life can be important. Another study of older adults, which considers a sense of purpose to be a component of well-being, also suggests purpose is a factor in increased survival.

If you’re looking to live a longer, healthier life, start by taking the RealAge Test, an assessment that measures the age of your body—based on family history and lifestyle factors. If your RealAge is lower than your biological age, you’re on the right track. If it’s higher, there are ways to get healthy again. Get personalized recommendations for lowering your RealAge, which might include eating more legumes and moving more throughout the day.    

In addition to adding years to your life, knowing your sense of purpose is beneficial in other ways, too.      

Other benefits of purpose

  • Boost physical and mental health: Older adults who spend time doing activities they find meaningful are healthier—physically and mentally—according to a January 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). About 7,300 UK adults aged 50 and older were asked to rate how worthwhile they felt their daily activities were, on a scale of 1 through 10.

    At the start of the study and when assessed four years later, adults who saw the most meaning in their lives were at a lower risk for depression, chronic pain, obesity and developing new diseases. They were also more likely to have stronger personal relationships, better mental health and more money. More meaningful daily activities were also linked to healthier lifestyles, which included more physical activity, diets rich in fruits and vegetables and better sleep. Any number of activities—big or small—can bring meaning to a person's life. What's considered worthwhile is entirely up to you.

    Despite the health benefits, the study did not show that seeking out meaningful activities caused the health benefits. In fact, researchers noted that it could work in reverse—being healthier may make people more likely to take up worthwhile pursuits or feel that what they do is meaningful.
  • Cope with illness and diagnosis: A diagnosis can be scary but rediscovering your purpose may help you (and your loved ones) work through this feeling. The physical aspects of healing are typically given the highest priority, but mental and spiritual health are important, too. “Awareness of purpose” is one way to describe spirituality, which can help relieve symptoms of depression.
  • Improve heart health: Risk factors for heart disease include obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, but could this list also include a lack of purpose? One study suggests men who have a strong sense of purpose are less at risk of heart disease-related death than those who don’t. A review analyzing 10 studies suggests a high sense of life purpose reduced participants’ risk of cardiovascular events.
  • Strengthen your brain: A sense of purpose may protect your brain from disease. One seven-year study of more than 900 older adults suggested people with a low sense of purpose were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those with a strong sense of purpose. The same study suggests those with a strong sense of purpose experience a slower rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment.
  • Get better sleep: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans don’t get the recommended seven hours of regular shuteye. Before you reach for the sleeping pills, there may be a solution to your restless nights.

Results from a July 2017 study published in Sleep Science and Practice suggest those with a sense of purpose have better sleep quality. There’s more: High levels of purpose were associated with lower rates of sleep-related conditions, like . Of the more than 800 participants over the age of 60, those with purpose were 63 percent less likely to experience symptoms of sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to have restless legs syndrome.

Know what makes you happy and fulfilled, so you can surround yourself with communities that best empower this purpose.

Find your purpose

  • Think honestly about what you love to do
  • Decide what skills or activity you’re best at
  • Determine what you want your legacy to be
  • Meditation and reflection may help determine purpose
  • Set a specific goal to accomplish
  • Remember that your purpose can change

Finding your purpose is often the easy part—acting on this purpose can be much more difficult. A daily verbal or written reminder—like a mantra—may help propel you to fulfill your sense of purpose.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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