‘Purpose in life’ may help healthy aging

Having a purpose in life may play an important role in helping people maintain physical function as they age, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published August 16, 2017 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Researchers looked at data collected in 2006 and 2010 from nearly 4,500 older adults who participated in the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study. Those who reported having a purpose in life, such has having goals for the future, performed better on tests of grip strength and walking speed—two measures of declining physical ability and risk factors for disability—than those who said they didn’t have a purpose in life.

Potential mechanisms for the link between having a purpose in life and physical functioning aren’t fully understood. But it’s likely, the authors wrote, that “People with higher purpose are more proactive in taking care of their health, have better impulse control, and engage in healthier activities.”

Lead author of the study was Harvard Chan School research fellow Eric Kim. Other Harvard Chan authors included Ying Chen, Ichiro Kawachi, and senior author Laura Kubzansky.

Read a TIME magazine article: People Age Better If They Have a Purpose In Life

Read a Medscape article: Purpose in Life May Preserve Physical Function