by MSN health
Sometimes, when it comes to our health, we have to think beyond what science can measure. Stress, for instance, is not wholly quantifiable—yet it can be worse for our bodies and longevity than smoking a pack a day or maintaining a candy-and-cookies diet.
Sometimes, the best preventative medicine doesn’t come in a screening or a pill. It’s just embracing a sense of purpose in your life.
New analysis in The Atlantic takes a look at all the ways science is proving that living on purpose is an essential component to staying healthy. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that people who have purpose in their lives were more likely to partake in preventative healthcare like mammograms and flu shots.
That’s not all. There are many more examples of purposeful living’s impact. The program Experience Corps has paired struggling early elementary kids with an adult age 55 or older for tutoring. Not only did the students’ attitudes and test scores increase over time, but the adults felt a renewed sense of purpose in their lives. Their depression rates fell, their cognition improved, their physical mobility, stamina, and flexibility all received a bump.
Nobel Prize-winner and biochemistry professor Elizabeth Blackburn has noted the link between stress and bodily aging: the caps on the ends of our chromosomes, called telomeres, shorten with psychological pressure. Shorter telomeres expose our chromosomes to damage, they fray, and we’re more likely to get sick and die—but the enzyme telomerase can slow down this aging process. With that in mind, Blackburn put stressed-out subjects into a three-month meditation program during one of her studies, and found they had longer telomeres and higher telomerase activity compared to those who did not meditate.
“It was the purpose, not the meditation itself,” explains Victor Strecher, professor of health behavior and health education at University of Michigan School of Public Health—a fact that is largely ignored by the medical sciences. But, he explains, "If things like purpose in life are rejected simply because they are philosophical ideas [not generally associated with the science of medicine], that's a problem... What if doctors had a prescription pad that just helped people develop greater purpose in life? I think we need something like this right now.”
Positive thinking and finding purpose are both mechanisms you can develop. Have you ever noticed that your troubles seem to melt when you think of others? Strecher says we need to look outside ourselves to improve our wellness. Volunteering is a huge lesson in perspective. Meditation and mindfulness can also help you learn what you are on this earth to do and the people you impact everyday—but you can’t get any of this in a shot from the doctor’s office. It’s on you. So, if you want one of the best ways to improve your health and wellbeing, think: I will live with purpose .