Researchers have long acknowledged the correlation between staying happy and staying healthy, but recent studies suggest an even more compelling relationship – having a purpose in life and sustaining cognitive function as you age.
The data shows that people with a well-defined sense of meaning in their lives had a 15% lower risk of death over a 15-year period, and those didn’t were nearly 40% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease. While purpose-driven individuals are more likely to exercise on a regular basis and have healthier diets, those studying the link between brain health and a life with purpose say there’s a much deeper connection.
There is a significant association between brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to grow and change) and setting goals. The stronger the individual’s determination to achieve that goal, the more effective and efficient the brain becomes. Having meaning is also closely aligned with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which plays a role in the body’s immune response and ability to optimize brain function.
Even when other factors known to influence well-being were taken into account (like age, gender, race or income level), having a life purpose appeared to be more influential than all of them combined. "The need for meaning and purpose is No. 1," says Alan Rozanski, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "It's the deepest driver of well-being there is."
What all of this data has demonstrated is the importance of remaining purpose-driven and retaining meaning in your life as you get older. Setting goals for yourself, finding ways to stay socially engaged, and identifying ways to contribute to the world, regardless of age or ability, are all vital components of sustaining cognitive function.
For more information on brain health visit our website.