Purpose in life is good for your health
Want to stay healthy and out of the hospital? Spend your days doing something meaningful.
A new study finds that older adults with a strong sense of purpose in life may be much more likely to get health screenings such as colonoscopies and mammograms. That kind of preventive care resulted in fewer days in the hospital, a better quality of life and lower health care costs.
The study of more than 7,000 Americans found that the higher people scored on a “purpose in life” scale, the more likely they were to get various screening tests. Researchers devised a six-point scale to measure the level of purpose a given individual may have. All participants were over 50 years of age and represented a diverse population based on race, sex and income. The study, which covered a six-year period, was conducted at the University of Michigan and published online on Nov. 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
People who had a high score for purpose were more likely to get a cholesterol test, colonoscopy, mammogram, Pap test or prostate exam during the study period. For every point higher on the purpose scale, the length of a hospital stay dropped by 17 percent.
“Purpose in life” refers to a feeling that your life has direction and meaning, and your daily activities matter, according to lead researcher Eric Kim, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan. Purpose is an important aspect of mental well-being and is different from general optimism, he said.
Researchers focused on older adults under the theory that “as people age and retire, they can lose their sense of purpose somewhat,” Kim said. His study aimed to find out the link between purpose and preventive screenings, which are underutilized among the older adult population, he said in a published report. In the 65-and-over population, less than 25 percent routinely receive preventive screenings and services, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Past studies have already found that older adults with a strong sense of purpose have lower risks of heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, said Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, an Advocate Medical Group internal medicine physician who practices at Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
“People who have a purpose take care of themselves because they want to have a long, healthy, meaningful life,” DeBruler said.
“Whatever it is,” DeBruler said, “follow your passion.”
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