In recent years a line of neuroscience has focused on exploring the relationship between mind and body and how there are spiritual, emotional and social factors that can have direct effects on health.
Some of these studies have been specifically dedicated to investigating the relationship between purpose in life and various aspects of health.
Having a sense of purpose in life, for example, has been related to a reduction in cardio-vascular accidents and heart attacks.
These investigations are based on the concept of “purpose in life” that was introduced into modern psychiatry in the 1940s by Viktor Frankl.
Concerning this purpose in life, the author wrote: “Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why a man is even ready to suffer on the condition to be sure that his suffering has a meaning. ”
According to Frankl, everyone has to look for this “sense” on a personal level, since it is different for everybody.
Other more modern ideas consider that the concept of “purpose in life” is composed of different dimensions such as believing that life has a meaning maintaining a personal value system and having the motivation to achieve future goals and overcome future challenges.
Purpose in life and Brain Health
Recent studies by Patricia Boyle, a professor at the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Rush University in the United States, have investigated the relationship between purpose in life and cognitive decline.
In a first study, researchers followed more than 900 people for seven years and the results showed that people with a high level of purpose in life were half as likely to develop dementia, namely Alzheimer’s disease, compared to people with a low level of purpose.
A feeling of purpose in life, moreover, was also related to a lower incidence of mild cognitive decline, a condition that in most cases only affects memory.
In another study, conducted two years later, the same authors found that the level of purpose in life not only had an effect on the number of new diagnoses, but also on the cognitive decline related to dementia.
These neuroprotective effects may be related to the reduction of inflammatory processes. In fact, a recent study has revealed that a high score on a questionnaire that assessed the level of purpose in life was associated with low levels of activity of a protein that is related to stress.