How Purpose Protects the Heart

By Traci Pedersen

In just a few decades, our understanding of the mind and body has risen dramatically. Topics that were rarely talked about in the 90s — omega 3’s, probiotics, and how the gut is intricately connected to the brain, for example — are now common knowledge for anyone interested in health. In fact, we now know that many debilitating mental health problems can be traced back to an unhealthy gut.  

But just as an unhealthy body can lead to an unhealthy mind, unhealthy thought processes and emotions can lead to an unhealthy body. In fact, a new study shows that people with a strong sense of purpose in life have a 23 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 19 percent reduced risk of having a stroke, heart attack or the need for coronary bypass surgery or cardiac stenting.

The findings, conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai Roosevelt, were just presented at the American Heart Association’s EPI (Epidemiology and Prevention)/Lifestyle 2015 Scientific Sessions in Baltimore. According to the researchers, a “purpose in life” was defined as having a sense of meaning and direction and a feeling that life is worth living.

For the analysis, the researchers reviewed data on more than 137,000 individuals to determine the connection between having a life purpose and cardiovascular events or death. The findings were clear: those with a low sense of purpose were more likely to die or suffer cardiovascular problems.

“Developing and refining your sense of purpose could protect your heart health and potentially save your life,” says lead study author Randy Cohen, MD. “Our study shows there is a strong relationship between having a sense of purpose in life and protection from dying or having a cardiovascular event. As part of our overall health, each of us needs to ask ourselves the critical question of ‘do I have a sense of purpose in my life?’ If not, you need to work toward the important goal of obtaining one for your overall well-being.”

What brings you joy? What are your passions? What are your strengths? What breaks your heart? These are just a few of the questions for which your life’s purpose could be the answer. But whatever it may be, your purpose should include an aspect of helping others in order to experience true fulfillment. 

Wayne Dyer, in his book There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem , explains the idea of having a life purpose this way: “I suggest that you remember that the only thing you can do with your life is to give it away. In any moment when you are reaching outside your own self-indulgence and attempting to serve others, you are on purpose.”

 

Spirituality & Health magazine is for people who wish to explore the spiritual journey—the journey to self-knowledge, authenticity, and integration. We draw from the wisdom of many traditions and cultures, with an emphasis on sharing spiritual practices. We explore the health of body, mind, and spirit, and we recognize that in our language the words “whole,” “health,” and “holy” share a common root. To subscribe to Spirituality & Health, click here.

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