How to live longer and better: Find your purpose, keep working

Finding meaning / purpose can extend your life

A recent British study led by Andrew Steptoe, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health care at University College London found that after taking other factors into account “people with the highest levels of ‘purpose in life’ were 30% less likely to die during the study period, living an average of two years longer than those with the lowest levels.” The study involved 9,000 people averaging 65 years old.1

James Maddux, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, reviewed the study and his team agreed that the findings make sense. Maddux noted that “people who actively search for meaning in life may be generally better at setting goals and making plans, including health care decisions.” The study review said there is good news for people who lack a sense of purpose—“it can be increased”—for instance, other studies have found that meditation, group therapy, taking classes or volunteering can help.

Work longer, live longer

In another study in 2016 conducted by Oregon State University,2 research indicates that working past age 65 could lead to a longer life, while retiring early may be a risk factor for an earlier death. Chenkai Wu, lead author and currently a doctoral student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, did the original research as part of his master’s thesis.

The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. They also found that even adults who described themselves as unhealthy were likely to live longer if they kept working.

“It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” said Wu. He became interested in the topic due to much debated mandatory retirement ages in China, which in 2015 were 50 for men and 60 for women and men in labor-intensive jobs, and 55 and 65 respectively for white-collar women and men.3

“Most research in this area has focused on the economic impacts of delaying retirement. I thought it might be good to look at the health impacts,” Wu said. “People in the U.S. have more flexibility about when they retire compared to other countries, so it made sense to look at data from the U.S.” He examined data collected from 1992 through 2010, focusing on 2,956 U.S. adults.2

Planning for a longer life

There is no better time than now to put a plan in place which accounts for the longer years you may live, and encompasses your deepest desires as well as your current and future financial resources.


1 Pfizer, Get Old, “A ‘Purpose in Life’ May Extend Yours,” by Robert Preidt, HealthDay, July 15, 2016. (accessed January 17, 2017).

2 OSU, Oregon State University, News and Research Communications “Working Longer May Lead to a Longer Life, New OSU Research Shows,” 04/27/2016. (accessed January 17, 2017).

3 USCBC, The US-China Business Council, “China’s Mandatory Retirement Age Changes: Impact for Foreign Companies,” by Owen Haacke, April 1, 2015. (accessed January 17, 2017).

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