New York: People who have a higher sense of purpose in life are at lower risk of death and cardiovascular disease, new research has claimed.
"Possessing a high sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for mortality and cardiovascular events," according to the study by Randy Cohen and Alan Rozanski and colleagues at Mt Sinai St Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, New York.
While the mechanisms behind the association remain unclear, the findings suggest that approaches to strengthening a sense of purpose might lead to improved health outcomes.
Using a technique called meta-analysis, the researchers pooled data from previous studies evaluating the relationship between purpose in life and the risk of death or cardiovascular disease.
The analysis included data on more than 136,000 participants from ten studies - mainly from the US or Japan.
The US studies evaluated a sense of purpose or meaning in life, or "usefulness to others."
The Japanese studies assessed the concept of ikigai, translated as "a life worth living."
The study participants, average age 67 years, were followed up for about seven years. During this time, more than 14,500 participants died from any cause while more than 4,000 suffered cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, etc).
The analysis showed a lower risk of death for participants with a high sense of purpose in life. After adjusting for other factors, mortality was about one-fifth lower for participants reporting a strong sense of purpose, or ikigai.
A high sense of purpose in life was also related to a lower risk of cardiovascular events.
Both associations remained significant on analysis of various subgroups, including country, how purpose in life was measured, and whether the studies included participants with pre-existing cardiovascular disease.
There is a well-documented link between "negative psychosocial risk factors" and adverse health outcomes, including heart attack, stroke, and overall mortality.
"Conversely, more recent study provides evidence that positive psychosocial factors can promote healthy physiological functioning and greater longevity," researchers said.
The new analysis assembles high-quality data from studies assessing the relationship between purpose life and various measures of health and adverse clinical outcomes.
"Together, these findings indicate a robust relationship between purpose in life and mortality and/or adverse cardiovascular outcomes, researchers said.
The association might be explained physiologically, such as by buffering of bodily responses to stress; or behaviourally, such as by a healthier lifestyle.
The study was published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioural Medicine.