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New research links a greater sense of purpose with a lower risk of death

New research links a greater sense of purpose with a lower risk of death

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Having purpose in life, or having clear direction and meaning in one’s actions and endeavors, has been linked to various physical and mental health benefits. It can provide a sense of motivation and drive, as well as a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Some research suggests that a sense of purpose may be associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as a lower risk of developing certain health conditions.

Meaning in life can have health benefits that are independent of race/ethnicity and gender, new study finds. The study also found that women may experience slightly more health benefits than men when given a purpose.

A new study led by a researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health has found that those with a higher purpose in life may be at a lower risk of death, regardless of race/ethnicity or gender.

Previous research has shown that a sense of purpose can be linked to a range of health benefits, including improved physical functioning and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. This latest study adds to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the importance of a sense of purpose in promoting overall health and well-being.

The study results, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, suggest that this association is slightly stronger in women than in men, but there was no significant difference by race/ethnicity.

“It is well known that having a purpose in life, on average, improves many health outcomes,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Koichiro Shiba, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at BUSPH. “In another study I led, we found that the effect of purpose on reducing all-cause mortality can vary by socioeconomic status. In this study, we extended the previous evidence and found that the positive effect of purpose persists regardless of gender and race/ethnicity.”

For the study, Dr. Shiba and colleagues from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan) presented data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study of US adults aged 50 and older. The team assessed more than 13,000 people’s self-reported sense of purpose based on the Ryff Psychological Well-being Scales’ “life purpose,” a widely used tool that measures various aspects of well-being and happiness. The researchers also looked at mortality risk over an eight-year period, beginning between 2006 and 2008.

The results showed that people with the highest sense of goal reported the lowest risk of death (15.2 percent risk of death) compared to people with the lowest sense of goal (36.5 percent risk of death).

The team also collected data on additional factors that can affect health, such as: B. socioeconomic status, other demographic characteristics, baseline physical health and depression, and found that an increase in these factors was also associated with an increase in a higher purpose.

dr Shiba speculates that the stronger observed association between purpose and mortality in women may be due to the gender disparity in health care utilization, “one of the postulated pathways linking purpose and health,” he says. “There is evidence that social norms tend to under-utilize essential health services for men. However, future studies examining the mechanisms underlying the gender difference are warranted.”

These results can help inform future policies and other efforts to improve health and well-being.

“This evidence on heterogeneity of effects tells us whether targeted interventions at the population level can promote people’s health not only on average, but also in an equitable way,” says Dr. shiba “Although evidence suggests that targeted interventions would not result in widening racial disparities in mortality, policymakers should also be aware of other sources of heterogeneity, such as B. SES and gender. Even though people view purpose as a “psychological” factor, its effects on health cannot be explained solely by processes occurring in our minds and biology. We have to consider how the psychological factor interacts with our social world and ultimately affects our health.”

Reference: “Life purpose and 8-year mortality by sex and race/ethnicity among older US adults” by Koichiro Shiba, Laura D. Kubzansky, David R. Williams, Tyler J. VanderWeele, and Eric S. Kim, October 22 2022, Preventive Medicine.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2022.107310

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Wellbeing for Planet Earth Foundation.

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