Ask The Doctor

A Sense of Purpose Improves Heart, Health

Dear Dr. Garner,

I always enjoy your columns that deal with heart disease and mental issues such as depression.

I recently read an article that claimed having a purpose in life could reduce the risk of heart disease. What do you think about this?

Purpose in Life in Bushwick


Dear Purpose in Life,

I think that you are referring to a study that was released a few weeks ago from Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. The study examined the relationship between having a purpose in life and heart disease. Previous research disclosed a relationship between having a purpose in life and psychological health issues such as depression. This study demonstrated that having a sense of purpose in life correlated with a decreased incidence of heart disease. The group defined “purpose in life” as a sense of meaning and direction and recognition that life is worth living.

The study was a large one and involved over 137,000 people. It found that those with a low sense of purpose were more likely to die or have heart disease. A sense of purpose could involve one’s religion or spirituality, caring for children or working on a project. In addition to lowering the heart disease risk, studies have shown that people with a purpose are happier than those who don’t have specific goals.

Having a goal provides a sense of purpose and can boost self-esteem and serve as a force to bring people together. The specific goal does not matter as much as the commitment to pursue it. Daily activities can be a part of a purposeful life. Relationships are critical, and studies have shown they can provide the strongest meaning and purpose to life.

Try to figure out your purpose in life. Think about what makes you happy. What do you feel are your best achievements? How do you want to be remembered? This can help guide you as to your purpose in life. Having a purpose can help people survive the most severe circumstances. Purpose is what gives people the ability to carry on in the worst conditions.

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and noted author, said, “He who has a will to live can bear almost any misery. Purpose is what gives people the strength to carry on.”

He stated how important giving is. “If you want love from people, love people. If you want more joy in life, give joy to people. The more we can give and enjoy our life, the more we will love our life.”

In summary, this study demonstrated improvement in health and heart disease with having a sense of purpose. Doing and giving are more important than taking. In view of the results of this study, I believe it might be a good time to think about our purposes in life and see if we are on the right track.

Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.

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