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.
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.