Finding a purpose in retirement can help you live longer, study shows

Retirees with a purpose in life are more likely to live longer, new research shows. Source: Getty

Transitioning from work life to retirement can be tricky and while most people anticipate retirement being the best years of their lives, many struggle to find a purpose in their later years.

A new study of over-50s shows picking up a part time job or volunteering for a charity could do more than keep you entertained in retirement. In fact, having a purpose in life could actually help you live longer.

Research published in the JAMA Network Open Journal by the University of Michigan analysed data from 6,985 adult participants in the Health and Retirement Study to assess whether meaningfulness in life impacted death. Participants filled out questionnaires in 2006 and researchers analysed the cause of death in participants between 2006 and 2010.

Researchers defined purpose in life as “a self-organising life aim that stimulates goals, promotes healthy behaviours and gives meaning to life.” Participants who felt they had a stronger purpose in life were shown to have a lower risk of dying.

What’s more is when factors that could affect the score such as sociodemographic or health status were taken into consideration, the results remained even. Researchers aren’t yet sure why there’s an association between living longer and having a purpose in life. The study says improved wellbeing could prevent genes linked with inflammation from being expressed in the body.

While inflammation is important when the body responds to an injury or infection, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of a variety of diseases and health issues such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and mental health issues.

It is also thought that lacking a purpose in life causes people to feel unmotivated, feel hopeless and less likely to live an active and healthful life, while those with a strong purpose are more likely to engage in healthier behaviours and have better outcomes for major health issues such as stroke, depression and diabetes.

Read more: From cruises to caravans: Most over-60s dream of travel in retirement

There are various ways people can find a purpose in life. Some people start smaller businesses or hobbies to give them a purpose and to keep them entertained. Some sell crafts or baked goods they make.

There are clubs and groups within communities all across the country that offer regular activities, events and meet-ups for people. Starts at 60, for example, offers an array of meet-ups.

Family becomes more important to some people and caring for the grandchildren or getting more involved with family events helps people make a difference. Others decide to focus on a new cause or passion that they can contribute to through volunteering for charities, not-for-profits or local organisations.

The study specifically notes that mindfulness, volunteering and meditation can improve purpose and quality of life in older people.

“Future research should focus on the mechanism of how life purpose may influence all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality and on the appropriate timing of life purpose interventions in a diseased population,” researchers say. “Ultimately, a randomised trial exploring life purpose interventions and disease outcomes, quality of life, and mortality are warranted.”

Read more: Having a sense of purpose is the key to happiness in retirement

What is your purpose in life? What advice do you give to others struggling in retirement?

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