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Study Shows Seniors with a Sense of Purpose Live Healthier, Longer

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An article that appeared a few weeks ago on the website Kaiser Health News provided some very encouraging insight into what helps seniors life longer, healthier, more fulfilling lives. The conclusion: if you have a sense of purpose in your life, you’re much more likely to live longer and live healthier. And the related good news is that your “purpose in life” doesn’t have to be either lofty or complicated. Finding purpose as you age may be simpler and more important that you thought.

We like this article because it reflects our philosophy here at AgingOptions. Far too many people in American society treat “old age” as a time of physical and mental decline where doddering seniors wait around until their life runs out like sand through an hourglass. By contrast, we know from decades of experience with thousands of seniors that your retirement years – notwithstanding the physical limitations that come as we age – can be the richest and happiest and most productive years of your life. We’ve seen it time and time again! However, such a rich and fruitful retirement won’t happen automatically. Along with determining a sense of purpose for your life as you age, you’ll also need a solid plan, something we’ll address in a moment.

The Kaiser Health News article was written by Judith Graham, who says, “After making it through the maelstrom of middle age, many adults find themselves approaching older age wondering ‘what will give purpose to my life?’ now that the kids have flown the nest and retirement is in the cards. How they answer the question can have significant implications for their health.” Graham goes on to point out that “over the past two decades, dozens of studies have shown that seniors with a sense of purpose in life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and more likely to live longer than people without this kind of underlying motivation.” (This finding was borne out once again in a new study that appeared in a publication called JAMA Psychiatry – you’ll find the article herethat demonstrated in observable ways how a sense of purpose causes seniors to exhibit fewer of the measurable effects of aging.)

Why should this connection between purpose and longevity exist? Kaiser’s Judith Graham proposes a common theory.  “Seniors with a sense of purpose,” she writes, “may be more physically active and take better care of their health, some research suggests. Also, they may be less susceptible to stress, which can fuel dangerous inflammation.” She quotes one expert who states that “Purposeful individuals tend to be less reactive to stressors and more engaged, generally, in their daily lives, which can promote cognitive and physical health.”  So in other words, we all need a sense of purpose in life, and if we find one, we’ll live longer and stay happier.  But what is “purpose,” exactly?

First of all, it’s important for seniors – especially those approaching retirement with a mixture of eagerness and dread – to give themselves time to process their new way of living. “Many people go through a period of trial and error after retirement and don’t find what they’re looking for right away,” said one San Diego doctor quoted in the Kaiser Health News article. “[Self-discovery] doesn’t happen overnight.” But unfortunately, as we at AgingOptions hear frequently, too many people entering retirement remain silent about their worries. “People don’t like to talk about their discomfort because they think it’s unusual,” said this same doctor, “yet everybody thinks about this existential question at this time of life: ‘What are we here for?’”  In other words, if you’re looking ahead to life after full-time work with uncertainty about what your purpose in life is going to be, you can relax – you’re not alone.

Judith Graham in the Kaiser article zeroed in on one common desire shared by many retirees: we feel we have to get involved in something “larger than ourselves,” such as non-profit work or community volunteering. However, Graham adds, that lofty desire may be “overreaching.” Research suggests that the sense of purpose that can add years of vitality to one’s life can often involve very simple things: caring for a pet, tending the garden, getting to know one’s neighbors. “Even small goals can help motivate someone to keep going,” said one Chicago-based behavioral scientist. “Purpose can involve a larger goal, but it’s not a requirement.” Finding your life-enriching purpose can revolve around taking care of grandchildren, volunteering at church, taking a class, accomplishing a new goal, or meeting new people. You don’t have to be involved in saving the world to find fresh new meaning in your life as you age.

Our advice to you, then, is to explore a sense of purpose that comes from being useful to others, perhaps beginning with your own family, your neighbors, your church or your community. Remember, you probably won’t have all the answers the moment you “officially” retire, so give yourself time, and remember that you’re not alone on this journey. But there’s another essential requirement to enjoying a vibrant and secure retirement and that’s to plan for it. At AgingOptions we employ a unique and powerful strategy called a LifePlan, in which we work with our clients to blend all five key facets of retirement – finances, legal affairs, housing options, medical coverage and family dynamics – into one well-crafted retirement blueprint. With a LifePlan in place, you’ll be able to protect your assets as you retire, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the trap of being forced into institutional care against your will. You’ll be free to live the long and purposeful life you’ve hoped for.

It’s easy to find out more: join AgingOption’s Rajiv Nagaich soon for a free LifePlanning Seminar in your area. If you’ll invest just a few hours, you’ll come away with valuable information that you can use immediately to better plan your own retirement or to aid someone an aging loved one. There’s no obligation whatsoever. For dates, times and online registration, click on this link, or call us during the week for assistance.

For a long and happy retirement, you need a sense of purpose. You also need a LifePlan from AgingOptions!

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