WebMD BlogsWebMD Doctors

Are You Living With Purpose? It Could Lengthen Your Life

woman with arms raised
John Whyte, MD, MPH - Blogs
By John Whyte, MD, MPHBoard-certified internistOctober 18, 2018

There are a lot of tips out there on how to live longer: Eat healthy. Exercise more often. Get restful sleep. We have good data showing that doing those things, along with regular preventive screenings, can prolong life.

But what about living a purposeful life? Does having a sense of purpose help you to live longer? Some recent research suggests it just may be the secret to longevity.

When I was in medical school, we often talked about the patient who has cancer, who wants to live a few extra months to see their daughter get married or their son graduate high school. Although there has been some conflicting data, I do believe that people’s mental outlook can extend one’s life. It may not be as simple as surviving by sheer will power, but the mind-body connection is powerful.

So why might this be the case?

I think one key reason might be that a having sense of purpose helps us to be less stressed. Stress releases cortisol, and too much cortisol damages the heart, brain, and muscles, affecting our health and our longevity. People that have a sense of purpose may experience less stress, mostly because by focusing on the bigger picture, they’re better able to keep everyday stressors in perspective.

I also suspect people with purpose may take better care of their health. They are aware of the latest screening recommendations, and they ask for labs and want to go over them. They take an interest in their health and that often allows problems to be detected earlier.

Having a sense of purpose also makes a huge psychological difference. How do you feel when you are on a mission? Motivated? Focused? Strong? Don’t underestimate the power of the mind-body connection.

So along with eating those fruits and vegetables, and getting those 10,000 (!) steps a day, think about what you want people to remember you for, as well as what motivates you to get up in the morning. If you haven’t yet developed an awareness of purpose, there are a lot of resources out there to help you, and I highly encourage you to spend some time today thinking about it. And, keep in mind, your purpose will change over time, so you may need to revisit the question of purpose as you get older. But it’s worth the effort: By living with awareness of why you’re here, you’ll like be here longer.

WebMD Blog
© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
John Whyte, MD, MPH

John Whyte, MD, MPH, is a board-certified internist and the Chief Medical Officer at WebMD, where he leads efforts to develop and expand strategic partnerships that create meaningful change around important and timely public health issues. As a popular health writer, he has been published extensively both in medical and mainstream publications.

More from the WebMD Doctors Blog

View all posts on WebMD Doctors

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More