For a healthier 2018, find purpose in life

If your resolution is to be healthier, happier and more fit in the new year, focus first on finding a real purpose in life.

People with a higher sense of purpose tend to engage in healthier lifestyle choices and are more likely to feel better about their own health status, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

“Our analysis found that participants’ sense of purpose was positively associated with their reports of both vigorous and moderate activity, vegetable intake, flossing, and sleep quality,” said the study’s lead author Patrick Hill, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences.

Published in the Journal of Health Psychology, the study set out to identify pathways and mechanisms that might explain how a sense of purpose contributes to health benefits. The analysis is based on data from the long-running Hawaii Longitudinal Study of Personality and Health, including new surveys of a diverse group of 749 people with an average age of 60.

Hawaii study participants were initially surveyed as children, part of an original community sample of elementary school students on the islands of Oahu and Kauai, and have been re-contacted as adults to complete surveys approximately every two years. The sample is known for its ethnic and cultural diversity.

“Participants reporting a higher sense of purpose also reported a greater likelihood to enact all health behaviors of interest and higher self-rated health,” Hill said. “Overall, these findings point to the importance of considering healthy lifestyle habits as a prominent explanation for why purposeful individuals experience better health outcomes.”

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