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The secret to longevity according to a study of centenarians

A study into communities where people are more likely to live past 100 – revealed that having a strong sense of purpose.”

What gets you up in the morning? It’s a question that doesn’t often get asked, but asking yourself might just improve your sleep, mental health, and cognitive function for the better.

It’s well understood that knowing your values and purpose leads to improved health and longevity. A study into “Blue Zones” – communities where people are more likely to live past 100 – revealed that one of the main factors shared amongst centenarians is having a strong sense of purpose. This makes sense, as people who bring meaning to their lives are more likely to make a conscious effort to look after their health and wellbeing.

But having purpose can also improve your brain – without even having to making a conscious effort. According to research from Northwestern University, people who feel like they have a purpose are more likely than others to have good quality sleep.

More recently, researchers from Canada and the United States found that adults who reported a greater sense of purpose in life also tended to score higher on tests of memory and executive functioning.

On top of all of that, the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Centre in Chicago found that people with a low sense of purpose were 2.4 times more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than those who had a strong sense of purpose.
This is all well and good but finding your life’s meaning is a heavy task to say the least. So, what can you do to find out what is important to you and what drives you in life?

Learn from the world’s longest living people

If you’re not already familiar with it, the Japanese concept of Ikigai is what could help you land on your own sense of purpose.

Ikigai is often described as the Japanese secret to health and happiness. The Japanese island of Okinawa is home to the longest living people in the world, with its population containing 34 centenarians per 100,000 people. Scientists who study the Japanese island believe their sense of Ikigai is the reason why on average, Okinawans live seven more healthy years than their counterparts in the west.

The beauty of Ikigai is that you cannot get it wrong. The only person this it has to sit well with, to align to what is important, is you.

The concept of Ikigai has you ask yourself the following questions:

What do you love?  What are you good at? What does the world need? What can you be paid for?

Ikigai believes that combining the answers to these questions contributes to an elevated sense of self-awareness, and a more fulfilling life as a whole. Ikigai is not static but may change as you go through life, as you start relationships, move to new places, or transition through your career.

Verbalising your purpose

The biggest question after having defined and articulated your Ikigai is, “Do you anchor your decision making to it?” After landing on the answers required to find your Ikigai, I suggest summing up these answers into six words. No more, no less. These six words will provide you with a mantra or a motto to keep your values top of mind and will help you stay in tune with what really matters to you during the major milestones in your life.

While you don’t need to find meaning in everything you do, having a greater sense of purpose will help guide you in times of adversity, or assist in making decisions when it really counts. And if you’re looking for ways to improve your body and brain, asking what really matters to you is a question worth asking.

Peta Sigley is the Chief Knowledge Officer at Springfox and a speaker, facilitator and coach on the topic of resilience.

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