Saturday, 27 May 2017

Purpose and Longevity

We know instinctively that meaning and purpose are necessary in order to live a fulfilling life, with those of us in a career we love often held in high regard. And regardless of how passionate you may be about your career, we all need a hobby - an interest outside of work that we truly love to do. The benefits of purpose and hobbies, however, go beyond quality of life and into quantity as well.

Purpose can light up your life!
Japanese culture has a concept called ikigai, which roughly translates to "purpose in life". Ikigai has traditionally been associated with health and longevity, so a recent study on over four thousand adults set out to determine if this theory was true. All participants were over 65, with over 1800 identified as at high risk of death, over 1200 at high risk of losing ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), and over 1100 at risk of losing their ability to perform instrumental ADLs. Data from February 2011 to November 2014 was used, which can be a long time when it comes to age-related disability. Compared to people who had both hobbies and an ikigai, having neither of these was associated with double the risk of mortality, close to triple the risk of losing ADL abilities and almost double the risk of losing IADL abilities! This was adjusted for age, gender, BMI, income, alcohol and tobacco consumption, cognitive function, depression and number of chronic illnesses. Therefore, hobbies and ikigai were linked to increased longevity and healthy life expectancy in older adults.

This was not the only study that found a link between purpose in life and longevity. An American study on 6000 adults, with a 14-year follow-up time, found that people who initially reported a strong purpose in life had a 15% lower risk of dying. In a NIH-funded study that followed people aged from 65 to 92 for 11 years, those who described clear goals and purpose lived both longer and better than those who did not. In fact, other "Blue Zone" cultures (areas with a high prevalence of centenarians) besides the Okinawans of Japan value purpose, with the Nicoyan (Costa Rica) people calling it plan de vida.

So how can you find your own ikigai, if you haven't already? A great way to start is by doing an internal inventory. Take a piece of paper, and for 20-30 minutes think of all your ideals, principles, standards and morals, then think of your physical, mental and emotional talents, strengths and abilities. It can take a while, maybe even a couple of attempts, to get an idea of what you really want, but you know you're getting close if anything brings out a strong emotional reaction. And then...put your skills into action! It's also important to build relationships with people who can help you achieve your goals. Overall, longevity is for everyone, and it turns out that some of the best ways to extend your life also improve its quality.

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