Purpose and Death

Did you know having a sense of purpose can actually add years to your life? An analysis of ten studies following 136,000 people from the United States and Japan for around seven years found those who reported a feeling of higher purpose in life lowered their risk of death during the study period by approximately 20 percent. The study, published in the Dec. 3 2015 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine also found participants who said their lives were meaningful had less chance of developing heart disease. Although it’s not clear exactly how a sense of purpose can lengthen life, the authors of this particular study think it might protect the body from potentially harmful stress responses as well as encourage a generally healthier lifestyle. And while the study shows an association rather than a cause and effect relationship, its implication—that knowing what you want out of life and having a plan to get it can impact lifespan—is significant.


Making a Plan

So let’s say you take this research about a sense of purpose to heart and make a goal for yourself. How do you achieve it? First and foremost, set and declare a clear intention. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology measured how often people exercised over two weeks. Researchers randomly divided 248 people into three groups. In the control group, participants were asked to keep track of how often they exercised and then instructed to read a few paragraphs of a novel. In addition to being asked to track exercise, the second group read a pamphlet on the benefits of exercise for reducing heart disease and given a motivational speech. The third group was told to track their exercise and given the same pamphlet and speech as the second group, but they were also asked to come up with a plan explicitly stating where and when they intended to exercise. At the end of the two-week study period, only 38% of people in the control group and 35% of the second group exercised at least once a week. In the third group, where participants wrote down exactly what they planned to do? A whopping 91% of this group exercised at least once a week. By simply setting and stating a clear intention, you can seriously amp up your chances of achieving your goal.

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Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He was most recently National Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer of a national medical practice, but is available to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.