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Monday, March 15, 2010

Life Purpose as Antidote for Illness

Exerpt from The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon

By Joe Rojas-Burke, The Oregonian
March 11, 2010

Having a sense of purpose in life seems to provide a shield against illness – particularly in old age.

In an ongoing study of healthy aging by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers used questionnaires to rate the sense of purpose in life among thousands of retirement-age women and men. Those with the highest sense of purpose were half as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those with the lowest sense of purpose during seven years of follow-up, the researchers reported this month in Archives of General Psychiatry.

In an earlier study, the same group found that the risk of dying from any cause was nearly cut in half among women and men with a greater sense of purpose. Japanese researchers in a similar study found evidence of protection from heart attacks and strokes in middle-aged men.

The protective effect seems to work regardless of depression or disability. Patricia Boyle, lead author of the Rush University studies, and her colleagues speculate that the protection emerges as a result of participating in meaningful activities, staying focused on reaching goals and engaging with other people. These are habits worth cultivating, other studies have found.

Answering these 10 questions can give you a quick read on your sense of purpose in life.

How often do you feel this way? (1 = never, 2 = almost never, 3 = sometimes, 4 = fairly often, 5 = very often)

* I feel good when I think of what I've done in the past and what I hope to do in the future.

* I have a sense of direction and purpose in life.

* I enjoy making plans for the future and working them to a reality.

* I am an active person in carrying out the plans I set for myself.

* Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.

How often in the past month have you felt this way? (5 = never, 4 = almost never, 3 = sometimes, 2 = fairly often, 1 = very often)

* I live life one day at a time and don't really think about the future.

* I tend to focus on the present because the future nearly always brings me problems.

* My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me.

* I used to set goals for myself, but that now seems like a waste of time.

* I sometimes feel as if I've done all there is to do in life.

Calculate your score by totaling your answers and dividing the sum by 10. Scoring 4.2 or greater puts you in the 90th percentile of long-lived and healthy high scorers in the Rush study. Scoring 3.1 or lower puts you in the 10th percentile of low scorers with greater risk of dementia and early death. The average is 3.7.

-- Joe Rojas-Burke

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