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The Remarkable Impact of Positivity and Purpose on Longevity

Purpose Matters

You’ve seen those interviews where the 100-year-old is asked for “their secret” to a long life. The answers are almost always about their attitude and daily habits, even as the years go by. Not only is the centenarian right about it in their own case, they are right about how important an optimistic attitude about growing older and having a purpose are for all of us.

In fact, researchers have now empirically proven that both of those things — having a positive self-image about aging and a purpose in your daily life — can add years to your life (and puts more life in your years).

Let’s take a look:

The Science of Positive Aging 

Yale researcher, Becca Levy, released a study in 2022 that showed thinking positively about getting older could extend life expectancy by 7.6 years. This benefit surpasses the longevity boosts from traditional health measures such as maintaining low blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or a healthy weight. Having a positive attitude also extends lifespans more than the advantages over smoking cessation and regular physical activity.

Let’s be clear: the research is not saying that your attitude about aging means you don’t need to make the right, healthy lifestyle choices. Those things are still incredibly important to a longer life. What it’s saying is that a positive attitude about growing older can amplify their effects even longer.

To figure this out, Levy’s research team found a study that was done on 660 people aged 50 and older in 1975 where they were asked to rate how certain statements about aging and growing older made them feel. For example, “Rate how much you agree with this statement: As you get older, you are less useful.”

Levy’s researchers tracked the survival rates for the participants over the following 23 years. They found those with a more optimistic view on aging lived significantly longer, even after taking into account factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, functional health, self-reported health and loneliness. Those with a negative attitude had shorter lives.

The team’s findings were subsequently published in Levy’s 2023 book, Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live. In it, she shows how age beliefs can be improved so they benefit all aspects of the aging process, including the way genes operate.

How you think about growing older literally can steal from or add to your life span! That’s pretty remarkable.

Purpose Lowers Mortality

Beyond a positive outlook, having a purpose in life has been shown to decrease mortality rates, according to a study published by JAMA in 2019. This research collected information on almost 7,000 adults ages 51-61 back in 1992 and then checked in with them in 2006 and 2010. They discovered that those with a strong sense of daily purpose had lower all-cause mortality.

In many ways it’s encouraging to learn there’s a link between purpose and longer life. “Purpose” as measured in the study wasn’t about having some big, life-long goal, but having some things to look forward to or accomplish on a daily basis. Think of it as having a reason to get out of bed.

An easy way to add more purpose to one’s life at any age is by volunteering, even if it’s only once or twice a month. Volunteering delivers multiple benefits. It potentially extends one’s lifespan and enhances the quality of life during those years. Plus, it benefits and builds community. This can be especially meaningful for older adults who might be dealing with feelings of isolation. 

The Take-away

The evidence is clear: embracing aging with a positive outlook and a proactive stance on living a purposeful life can add years to your life. And, it can enrich every moment of those years. As we grow older, the importance of perspective and purpose only increases, emphasizing that how we view and live our lives can have profound implications for our longevity.

So, take heart in knowing that the simple acts of looking forward positively and engaging meaningfully in the world are not just good for the soul; they’re also proven strategies for living a longer, happier life.

Now that’s good thinking!

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