(HealthDay News) — Older adults with a strong sense of purpose in life may be particularly likely to get health screenings such as cholesterol tests and mammograms, and appear to spend less time in the hospital, according to research published online November 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers analyzed data from 7,168 Americans >50 years of age who took part in an ongoing health survey. That survey included some questions on purpose in life, asking people the extent to which they agreed with certain statements, such as: “I have a sense of direction and purpose in life,” and “My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me.”
In general, the researchers found, the higher people’s scores on the purpose scale, the greater their likelihood of getting a cholesterol test, mammogram, Pap test, or prostate exam over the next six years. For example, about three-quarters of the study group got a cholesterol test. But the odds went up 18% for every point on the purpose scale. Over six years, participants spent an average of seven nights in the hospital; however, that time dipped by 17% for every point on the purpose scale.
“Purpose in life” refers to a feeling that your life has direction and meaning, and your daily activities matter, according to lead researcher Eric Kim, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Purpose, Kim told HealthDay, is an important aspect of mental well-being – distinct from, say, general optimism. “One reason,” he said, “is that as people age and retire, they can lose their sense of purpose somewhat.”