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4 ways living life with purpose nurtures brain health.

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What are you passionate about? What is your purpose in life? What keeps you going?

Finding answers to these questions can help you live a fulfilling life. Having clarity about finding purpose in your life can support your brain’s health. German philosopher Hegel believed that having passions was a requirement to reach the peak of achievement [1]. Passions are strong feelings towards a value that is of personal importance that motivates behaviour to pursue it [5]. Some people love volunteering and are passionate about giving back to society. Others may have a passion for visual and performing arts. Others might be inclined towards fitness or career development. This can be accredited to the fact that you spend an extended amount of time, energy, and mental resources on activities you are passionate about. They bring you joy, and you feel motivated to pursue them. It can also give your life meaning, in other words, provide your life with a purpose. Here are 4 benefits of purpose and pursuing your passions: 

1. Having passions will reduce risk of Alzheimer’s.

How to reduce your risk of dementia? A unique way would be to follow your heart and find your purpose of life. Over 900 dementia-free older adults were studied for up to 7 years [2]. They found those with a purpose in life were 2.4 times more likely to remain Alzheimer’s free! This was true, regardless of education, medical conditions or social connections they had. These individuals enjoyed living life, looked forward to the future and had goals and a sense of direction. Though the science behind these effects is unclear, it is possible that leading a meaningful life and having a positive mindset can contribute to better physical and mental health and hence slow the rate of cognitive decline. 

2. Having a purpose in life will make you happier.

The self-determination theory [3], introduced by Deci and Ryan, human psychology scholars who have been cited over 200,000 times, can help understand how passions can make you happy.  Deci and Ryan proposed that being self-motivated and having self-developed goals can guide you to happiness and wellbeing. This is often seen among people who are unhappy and quit their well-paying jobs in pursuit of a simpler life where they happily follow their passions. Having a purpose in  life comes from being motivated by actions that are important to you and make you happy. Being passionate about something makes you feel that “life is worth living”. In a study of over 1000 older adults, those with a purpose of life reported to be happier and healthier [4]

3. Indulging in your passions will make you smarter. 

At a basic level, the more active you keep your brain, the smarter it will become. Your brain needs to build new brain cells and connections to improve intellectually. When you are passionate about a certain activity, you will actively pursue it. This repeated practice will create more brain networks to support the development of that skill [6]. For example, if you are passionate about languages, spending time and effort learning and practising a language will build more brain cells and connections. This can translate into long term benefits, adding to an extensively strong brain network that will support cognition even in presence of dementia. This is called cognitive reserve. You can read more here. (BF article link https://brain-feed.com/blogs/the-science/cognitive-reserve-stalling-mild-cognitive-impairment)

4. A purpose in life will make you emotionally stronger.

Everyone faces stress in life. Some people deal with it better than others. In fact, those with a purpose in life were found to recover from stressful situations faster. 44 older adults were asked to do public speaking and a maths test (stressful situations) in front of unresponsive judges. The levels of their stress hormone, cortisol, sprang back to normal levels faster after the test in those who ranked higher on purpose of life scores [7]. Scientists propose that a high purpose in life acts as a buffer for negative situations. Individuals with a sense of direction have better coping and reassessment skills. They also avoid brooding on negative thoughts which helps them recover faster, making them more resilient in the long run [8]. The area of the brain that deals with fear is less activated in those with a high purpose of life, which helps with good emotional regulation during the ups and downs in life [8]

Find your purpose today.

Simon Sinek, world-renowned leadership expert and best-selling author of “Start with Why,” talks about how you can find your purpose in life. 

References

    1. Vallerand, R.J. (2012). The role of passion in sustainable psychological well-being. Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice, 2(1), p.1.
    2. Boyle, P. A. et al. (2010). Effect of a purpose in life on risk of incident Alzheimer disease and mild cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older persons. Archives of general psychiatry67(3), 304–310.
    3. O’Hara, D. (2017). The intrinsic motivation of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. American Psychological Association
    4. Aftab, A. et al. (2019). Meaning in Life and Its Relationship With Physical, Mental, and Cognitive Functioning: A Study of 1,042 Community-Dwelling Adults Across the Lifespan. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, [online] 81(1).
    5. Jachimowicz, J.M. et al. (2018). Why grit requires perseverance and passion to positively predict performance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(40), pp.9980–9985.
    6. Sigmundsson, H. et al. (2022). Motion, Relation, and Passion in Brain Physiological and Cognitive Aging. Brain Sciences, 12(9), p.1122.
    7. Fogelman, N. et al. (2015). ‘Purpose in Life’ as a psychosocial resource in healthy aging: an examination of cortisol baseline levels and response to the Trier Social Stress Test. npj Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, 1(1). 
    8. Schaefer, S. M. et al. (2013). Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative stimuli. PloS one8(11), e80329.



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