Researchers at Harvard University and the University of Warwick have given us another reason to hit the gym.
According to their study, published last week in the journal Genome Medicine, regular exercise can increase one’s sense of purpose in life.
The opposite is true as well, the researchers found. Those with a sense of overall purpose are, generally, more likely to exercise.
The study involved more than 18,000 middle-aged and older people. It demonstrates the indelible connection between mental and physical well-being.
The researchers began by using the large Health and Retirement Study, which tracks data about the lives of thousands of Americans aged 50 and up. Questions ask about physical and mental health, daily activities, and background.
The researchers drew the records for 14,159 patients, and enhanced the data with a comparable study that asked people questions about their sense of purpose and physical activity.
After comparing the results, the researchers discovered that those with a healthy sense of purpose were likely to be most active later.
But what does it mean to have a sense of purpose?
Lead author Ayse Yemiscigil, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard, told the New York Times that “a sense of purpose is the feeling that you get from having goals and plans that give direction and meaning to life. It is about being engaged with life in productive ways.”
“Active people often talk about how exercise gives structure and meaning to their lives,” she said. “It provides goals and achievements.”