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Aging well and with grace doesn’t require a gym membership or expensive beauty products. Rather, a sense of purpose—whether that’s postponing retirement or checking items off a bucket list—is the key to getting the most out of your life. Not only does living a purposeful life give you motivation and meaning, but it could also improve your motor skills as you age, according to new research. These 50 easy habits will also help you live longer.
To assess how purpose affects physical decline in older adults, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health collected data from a massive national study of US adults older than 50 years. They then tracked the physical function of nearly 4,500 of those adults using two aging factors—grip strength and walking speed—across a four-year period. The participants also answered survey questions about their health and well-being.
The final results, published the journal JAMA Psychiatry, revealed a significant link between physical changes over time and having a sense of purpose in life. In fact, participants who reported maintaining goals for the future had a 13 percent decreased risk of developing a weak grip, and a 14 percent decreased risk of developing a slow walk, than those who simply went about their day aimlessly.
“These findings suggest that sense of purpose, a modifiable factor, may play an important role in maintaining physical function among older adults,” the study authors wrote.
Developing hobbies, maintaining and cultivating relationships, and practicing mindfulness are just a few of the ways people can increase their sense of purpose in life, previous studies suggest. Your 80-year-old self will thank you for these habits, too.
But why does purpose work? According to the study authors, behavioral and biological factors might interact. “People with higher purpose are more proactive in taking care of their health, have better impulse control, and engage in healthier activities,” they wrote. Therefore, they’re in better physical shape than those who lack purpose.
Of course, an observational study like this one can only show an association between purpose in life and motor skills over time—not a direct, cause-and-effect relationship. Further research is needed to determine whether one really causes the other, experts say. Still, it can’t hurt to create a bucket list that will make your life more meaningful.