Healthy Monday: People With a Higher Purpose in Life have Better Brain Health, New Research Reveals!
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People with a high sense of purpose in life have better brain health and a lower risk of stroke, according to new research as reported by Reuters.
“We and others have shown that purpose in life is protective against multiple adverse health outcomes in older age,” said lead study author Lei Yu, an assistant professor of neurological sciences at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
For their study, which was published in the journal Stroke, Yu and his team analyzed autopsy results on 453 older adults who had been enrolled in the Rush Memory and Aging Project.
All of the participants underwent an annual physical and psychological evaluation, including a standard assessment of purpose in life, and were followed until they died, at an average age of 90.
None of the participants reportedly had dementia when they got enrolled in taking part in the study, but 114 people had suffered a stroke.
A stroke often occurs when there is a blockage of blood flow to the brain. The damaged brain tissue may then consequently contribute to a number of other health conditions including dementia, disability and death as individuals grow older.
The autopsy results revealed that 154 individuals had macroscopic infarctions (areas of stroke damage visible to the naked eye) and 128 had “microinfarcts” (areas of damage visible with a microscope).
Purpose in life was judged on a five-point scale with higher scores indicating a greater purpose. The average score was 3.5. With every one-point increase in the score measuring purpose, the likelihood of having one or more macroscopic infarctions decreased by about 50 percent. There was no link between purpose and microinfarcts.
Biller also noted that the neurobiology underlying this finding is poorly understood and perhaps more complex than we can understand.
“We are always talking about sickness and infirmity and we don’t emphasize health,” Biller said. “As a country we spend more on healthcare than anyone else but we don’t pay attention to prevention. Many problems can be solved by very basic measures, and as this study shows, that includes taking care of the spirit.”
“It has many strengths and corroborates with other observations that having a direction and purpose in life may be beneficial,” Biller, who wasn’t involved in the new study, told Reuters Health in an interview.
He however cautioned that the people in the new study tended to be highly educated, which means the results may be inapplicable to others.
“But still, if we put everything together — my opinion is that having a purpose in life is very healthy, and this is the message I would want to convey,” Biller said.
Yu said people should take into consideration things that motivate them and engage in rewarding behaviors, he said.
“Health conscious adults are encouraged to work actively to improve their sense of meaning in life and goal directness,” Yu said.
However, having a high purpose in life may be improved through changes in behaviors or participation in activities like volunteerism, among other things, Yu told Reuters Health in an email.
Have a healthy week!
Photo Credit: Swanson