Knowing what you want to do in life and actively pursuing goals could end up saving your life, in addition to bettering your psychological well-being.
According to new research, living with a sense of purpose is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease or stroke. The results of the study were presented last week at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Baltimore.
"Our study shows there is a strong relationship between having a sense of purpose in life and protection from dying or having a cardiovascular event," the study's lead author Randy Cohen said in a press release. "As part of our overall health, each of us needs to ask ourselves the critical question of 'do I have a sense of purpose in my life?' If not, you need to work toward the important goal of obtaining one for your overall well-being."
So what constitutes a sense of purpose?
The definition is actually pretty broad, and applies to anything that gives an individual a sense of meaning, direction, and happiness in life. The definition is important because it opens it up to all people. Whether one gains purpose from building homes for Habitat For Humanity, being a tough-as-nails attorney or pushing your body to compete in marathons.
Whatever task someone chooses to pursue, merely having the drive is beneficial.
The study's authors based their conclusions on the analysis of 10 other studies which covered medical histories of more than 137,000 people and linked lifestyle factors (like living with purpose) with heart health and instance of stroke. These individuals were followed for a number of years. Ultimately, they found that living a motivated lifestyle correlated with 19% decreased risk of experiencing stroke or intervention by a cardiologist, and an astonishing 23% decrease is death from any cause.
"Prior studies have linked a variety of psychosocial risk factors to heart disease, including negative factors such as anxiety and depression and positive factors such as optimism and social support," added co-author Alan Rozanski, of the Mount Sinai Health System. "Based on our findings, future research should now further assess the importance of life purpose as a determinant of health and well-being and assess the impact of strategies designed to improve individuals' sense of life purpose."
While the correlation to better health is exciting, the researchers did not identify the cause for this phenomenon. It could be that living on one's own terms and seeing success in a personal way causes lower stress and improves heart health. More research is needed to be sure.
If you missed out on setting a New Year's resolution or goal for the year on your birthday, don't worry.
Today is as good a day as any to start thinking of the direction you would like to take your life.
On top of the psychological benefits of chasing your dreams, renewing your sense of focus and living out your purpose could contribute to you leading a longer, healthier life.