Living a meaningful life is obviously important, whether you’re 20 or 80. But according to a new study, it could actually help older people improve their physical ability, helping them to maintain their independence and possibly even helping them live longer.
What the Science Says
Researchers looked at how a purpose-driven life correlates with physical functioning among older people. They analyzed answers from people age 50 and older who took part in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) survey in 2006 and 2010. The respondents answered several questions regarding their overall health, and also participated in tests meant to measure their walking speed as well as the strength of their grip.
Some of the questions on the survey involved whether or not the respondents felt they had a purpose in life. Specifically, whether they felt like they had tangible goals for the future or they were just drifting through life aimlessly. They then compared those answers to the results of the grip strength and walking tests.
You might not think that the strength of your grip or the speed at which you walk would have much of an impact on your lifespan, but the authors of the study strongly believe otherwise.
In fact, they believe they are signs of overall health. An increase in walking speed, they report, is equivalent to being nearly three years younger as your chronological age.
According to the researchers, the respondents who said they felt there was a purpose to their lives were at a 13 percent lower risk for having a weak grip than those who reported feeling less of a sense of purpose. Those saying they had a high sense of purpose were at a 14 percent lower risk for having a slow walk compared to the others. The findings showed a direct connection between leading a meaningful life and improved physical ability.1
According to the researchers, people who feel a heightened sense of purpose will be more proactive in addressing their health, participate in healthier activities and have more control over their impulses.
How Do You Find Purpose in Life?
Further research will be needed in order to definitively establish a specific cause-and-effect relationship between improved physical functioning and finding happiness through a purpose-driven life. But the indications are that there is some sort of connection.
What does it mean, exactly, to have a purpose in life?
There’s no “one size fits all” answer to the question, because it will mean different things to different people, no matter what their age may be. Finding purpose may be simply enjoying your home and your family and friends. You might be aiming for social change. Or you might find purpose in doing your job extremely well. Some people believe they find purpose in creative pursuits, such as writing, music, dance or painting.
But even if you don’t feel that you have a purpose in life, that doesn’t mean you have to be resigned to being bored and miserable until you die. There are a lot of things you can do that will make you want to get out of bed in the morning.2
Here are just a few of them.
Identify Your Passions
You might have enjoyed a fantastic professional career and feel that you have everything. But that doesn’t mean you can’t continue finding purpose in life. Think about what you feel when you watch television, read a newspaper or magazine, or go online. W
hat images make you happy? Which ones enrage you? Think about the interests or activities you find exciting or interesting and pursue them.
Turn To The People You Trust
Hopefully, you have a close circle of friends and family members whose opinions you value. Talk to them about their interests and passions and you might find something you’ll want to pursue. It could be finally learning a new language, trying to break 80 on the golf course or even skydiving. If President Bush could jump out of a plane when he turned 90, why can’t you?
Purpose won’t come overnight. It will take time, patience and a great deal of courage to turn your passion into action. Take baby steps, such as finding a small thing you can do each day to make life better for someone else.
Whatever You Choose To Do …
Do something. Just because you’re getting older, that doesn’t mean you can’t still get out and wring every drop out of the years that lie ahead. Finding purpose is somewhat like a life insurance policy — it helps ensure you remain active and engaged for a healthier, happier – and possibly longer – life.
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