A sense of purpose may cut heart attack risk

By: Kathleen Troher, Public Affairs and Marketing Manager

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If you want to decrease your risk for heart attack or stroke, try increasing the meaning in your life.

That’s the key finding from a recent review of 10 previously published studies that found people with a high sense of purpose in life had a reduced risk for death and cardiovascular events.

The results didn’t surprise Rev. Fred Rajan, Vice President of Mission and Spiritual Care at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Illinois. Rev. Rajan is a firm believer that establishing and pursuing a sense of purpose can have powerful beneficial effects on body, mind and spirit.

“Having a sense of purpose helps us in overcoming life’s challenges and difficulties,” he says. “It also offers us a positive outlook and helps us lead a healthier life.”

Purpose is defined as deriving meaning from daily experiences, having goals that are attainable and having a sense that life is worth living.

For the study, researchers wanted to evaluate the association between purpose in life and risk of death from all causes. They also looked at the linkage to heart attacks or stroke.

They analyzed data on more than 136,000 participants from 10 studies conducted primarily in the United States and Japan. The participants were followed for an average of seven years. During this time, more than 14,500 of the people studied died and about 4,000 experienced cardiovascular events. The researchers found the participants with a high sense of purpose were less likely to die or experience heart attacks or stroke.

Rev. Rajan suggests taking time for self-reflection. This can help people form a clearer vision for the future.

“Without a vision, we perish,” he says. “Find a quiet time and pray or meditate, and come in touch with your inner strength. Focus on the purpose in life. In spite of disappointments and setbacks, each of us has a purpose. Take a deep breath, seek the ray of hope and move forward.”

Rev. Rajan also suggests reading motivational books and sacred scriptures, as well as sharing feelings with close friends.