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Having a purpose in life can keep you strong in old age

Having a ‘reason to get up in the morning’ can keep you strong in old age, new research suggests.

Adults who see a purpose in their life are less likely to lose their grip strength or walking speed, scientists found. 

And those who believe their life has the most meaning were even likely to have stronger grips or walk quicker, researchers noted.

Both physical factors occur naturally with aging, and a host of evidence has shown them to play a role in shortening lives. 

Adults who see a purpose in their life are less likely to lose their grip strength or walking speed, Harvard University scientists have found

Lead author Dr Eric Kim, a behavioural scientist based at Harvard University, said: ‘Purpose in life can be altered.

‘The potential implication later down the road is that if we help people maintain a “reason to get up in the morning” at a large scale, then we may be able to help more older adults stave off declines in physical functioning.’ 

The findings back up recent research which shows walking slowly is an indicator of dementia and makes heart disease deaths more likely. 

How was the study carried out? 

For the study, the researchers examined data from 5,947 older adults on what they thought about their purpose in life.

The volunteers were then split into two groups, designed to monitor the effects of purpose in life on the individual physical factors.

They were then followed over a period of four years to see if their grip strength and walking speed, two signs of physical fitness, were affected.


It is often seen as a sign of confidence but a firm handshake could signal a long and healthy life.

A growing number of doctors and scientists believe the strength of a person’s grip could be one of the most useful ways to gauge how well they are ageing.

Studies show men and women blessed with a strong grip tend to outlive those whose handshakes brush rather than crush.

One British analysis found those with the weakest handshakes were 70 per cent more likely to die at any given time than those with the strongest handshakes.

The finding held even when factors such as age and gender were taken into account.

Another study concluded the strength of a person’s grip was a better indicator of their odds of dying prematurely than a blood pressure check.

Each underwent a psychological questionnaire to give the scientists an insight into what they think about their lives.

An average level of sense of purpose was then calculated, and then looked at what happened for each incremental increase above the average.

What else did they find? 

Each one-increment increase in sense of purpose in life was associated with a 13 percent lower risk of developing weak grip strength.

It was also linked to a 14 percent reduction in the odds of developing slow walking speed, researchers reported in JAMA Psychiatry. 

However, the team said that walking speed improvements could have been due to chance, unlike the grip strength findings. 

Among the 4,486 with adequate grip strength at the start, 426, or about one in 10, developed weak grip strength by the end of the study.

Of the 1,461 with adequate walking function at the start, 687, just under half, went onto develop slow walking speed after the follow-up.  

For most men, grip strength begins to decline around age 55, Harvard researchers have previously said.  

The change may be associated with sarcopenia – the natural age-related decline in muscle mass. It also affects balance and gait.