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"Greater Life Purpose" Significantly Lowers Risk of Stroke in Older Adults, Study Finds

Update Date: Mar 07, 2013 10:03 AM EST

Having a greater purpose in life significantly decreases the risk of stroke in older adults, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Michigan say that conditions like stroke can cause severe social, financial and personal burden. Thus many recent studies have been dedicated to finding links between psychological factors and stroke in order to find new prevention and treatment methods.

Researchers from the current study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a national survey of American adults over the age of 50.  The study consisted on nearly 6.800 adults were who stroke-free at the beginning of the study.

Researchers compared psychological data at the beginning of the study with the stroke incidence during the study.  The study also analyzed other factors like gender, ethnicity, education level, lifestyle behaviors (smoking, exercise alcohol use), biological factors (hypertension, diabetes, blood pressure, BMI), negative psychological factors (depression, anxiety, hostility) and positive psychological factors (optimism positive emotions, social participation).

Participants were also asked to rate their responses to six questions including: "I enjoy making plans for the future and working to make them a reality," "My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me," and "I live life one day at a time and don't really think about the future."

The findings revealed that even after accounting for several risk factors that have been linked with stroke, the effects of "having a purpose in life" significantly lowered a person's risk of having a stroke. 

"Even after adjusting for several risk factors that have been linked with stroke, the effects of purpose remained significant in all models, implying that purpose displays a protective effect against stroke above and beyond the effects of the factors we tested," lead author Eric Kim, a U-M doctoral student in clinical psychology, said in a statement.

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