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Leading a meaningful life associated with better health

News

January 2019

An ELSA analysis has shown that people who rate their life as being more meaningful also have stronger personal relationships, broader social engagement, less loneliness, greater prosperity, better mental and physical health, less chronic pain, less disability, greater upper body strength, faster walking speed, less obesity and smaller waistlines.

The study also showed that higher worthwhile ratings were associated with more favourable biomarker profiles, healthier lifestyles, more time spent taking part in social activities and exercising, and less time spent alone or watching television.

Lead author and PI of ELSA, Andrew Steptoe, said: ‘Social engagement is a very important component of living a meaningful life for many people.

‘Being a member of an organisation may be meaningful in itself, but it can also provide social contact. Finding meaning when you are sitting on your own is quite tricky, since for most people this is linked to their relationships. We were struck by how important this feeling of meaning was, with people who saw their lives as meaningful being much more healthy as well as being socially engaged.' 

People taking part in the study were asked to rate how meaningful they felt their lives were on a scale of 0-10.  

Those who rated their life's meaning between zero and two, spent five hours and 18 minutes alone during the average day, compared to two hours and 46 minutes for people who saw their lives as more meaningful.

Those with ratings of 9 or 10 walked 18 per cent faster than those with scores of 0-3 and had a 13 per cent higher concentration of vitamin D, which boosts bone and muscle strength. They were 40 per cent more likely to report good sleep and had stronger hand grips, a measure of frailty and risk of mortality.

Leading a meaningful life at older ages and its relationship with social engagement, prosperity, health, biology, and time use. Steptoe, Andrew and Fancourt, Daisy. PNAS Epub ahead of print January 7, 2019 [link]

Featured in the Times [link - paywall], the Daily Mail [link]