A Sense of Purpose in Your Life Protects Your Health Too

I've talked a lot about the hidden power behind prayer meditation and friendships and how all these things can heal hearts and lessen stress on my Web site. There's another variable a group of researchers found that's just as important: People who were purposefully engaged in life tended to have better levels of physical functioning.

Although scientists believed there was nothing new about a study that links psychology and biology, what was novel is that it looks at varieties of positive human functioning and how they relate to physical health. In the past, most researchers have looked for connections between emotional dysfunction, such as stress or loneliness, and physical illness, such as high blood pressure. In other words, studying one side of the issue won't explain much about the other.

To begin to understand the role of good mental health on physical functioning, researchers looked for links between two forms of well-being and health, specifically biological markers for stress, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Researchers were surprised when they compared the participants' reported levels of both types of good emotional health to their physical charts. They had expected people who had higher levels of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being would be in better health. But, this connection was only evident in women who reported high levels of eudaimonic well-being.

For example, people who reported high levels of purpose in life had:

  • Lower levels of stress hormones throughout the day
  • Lower levels of inflammatory cytokines, which can result in arthritis, hardening of the arteries and diabetes
  • Higher levels of HDL cholesterol
  • Weighed less

In essence, researchers believe people can achieve good health and well-being by not just eating right, exercising and managing stress, but by living purposeful and meaningful lives.

Science Blog August 17, 2004

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