Want to Live Longer? Here’s How

Want to Live Longer Here’s How

Is 40 really the new 20? I’d have to say no, but I’m throwing coins into the fountain of youth (and doing my part to fight the signs of aging) just as earnestly as anyone I know. My strategy is random acts of health—doing what I can, when I can, like packing a couple raw bell peppers in my bag to chop up for snacking at the office, taking breaks from the keyboard with shoulder rolls and stretching or making time for a latte date with a girlfriend.

Then there’s the occasional 30-minute run on a lunch break and some squats in front of the TV during an episode of Downton Abbey (although, truthfully, I prefer to lounge on the couch and be completely absorbed by Lady Mary’s hairstyles, gowns and witty asides).

Though we at FoodsForBetterHealth usually focus on food, you have to have a holistic approach when it comes to living well: This means good food, activity, social connections and a sense of purpose. Interestingly, I just read about new research on longevity and what makes people really go the distance in fine form. While chin and tummy tucks along with fat injections from the buttocks to the face work for celebrities, the average Jill can live well over that hill with a defined purpose in life—a sense of direction and firm footing on a life path. It might sound a little New Age-y, but when you think about it, that’s what can help you focus and bring on the peace and harmony in a frantic world. You’re less likely to become side-tracked by time-wasters or cave to that ad for gooey deep-dish pizza.

For me, it’s the joy of language—writing, storytelling, diving into that creative “flow” state where the hours zip by. Add to that my love of family and connecting with people in a positive way. Sometimes I get criticized for paying too many compliments, but isn’t that the good stuff in a world of skeptics, critics and “frenemies” at every turn? I like to think so.

New research published in Psychological Science shows that no matter your age, having a sense of purpose could add years to your life. The findings from researchers at Carleton University in Canada and the University of Rochester Medical Center showed that having a sense of purpose and setting big goals to achieve it will extend your lifespan, whether you have your eureka moment at 25 or freedom 55, which makes me think about people in mid-career who decide to go back to school or start a new business with such fierce determination and enthusiasm—it’s inspiring (and likely good for their health).

While having a sense of purpose has been identified as a predictor of longevity, this study reportedly is the first to include younger age groups (U.S. adults between the ages of 20 and 75) and pinpoint the life purpose as distinct from other social and psychological influences on lifespan, such as retirement status, social connectedness and well-being, all known to be linked to physical health.

The researchers looked at data from a large-scale longitudinal study of health where participants were scored by ratings they gave themselves against three statements: “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them;” “I live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future;” and “I sometimes feel as if I’ve done all there is to do in life.”

Fourteen years after the questionnaire, nine percent of the participants had passed away; those still living had scored much higher on the self-reported purpose in life. This finding was consistent among all age groups, which came as a surprise, since researchers expected that older people facing more health issues and seeking a new direction after retiring from the workforce would show a stronger effect. You can find your purpose at any point in your adult life and reap the benefits of better health.

But how having a sense of purpose increases a person’s lifespan isn’t known. The researchers say those with a clear direction take better care of themselves. I think having that self-understanding makes you more confident and content, enjoying what’s good for your body—whole foods, physical exercise and the stimulation and satisfaction that come with achieving personal goals. You don’t feel like that hamster on the wheel, just going round and round, but never forward. You have momentum, propelling you onward—and making sure you’re dipping into those raw almonds instead of the potato chips!

Hill, P.L. and Turiano, N.A., “Purpose in Life as a Predictor of Mortality Across Adulthood,” Psychological Science May 8, 2014; doi: 10.1177/0956797614531799.