Then Dr. Yemiscigil and Dr. Vlaev set records for 14,159 participants. To expand and enrich their sample, they also collected comparable data for an additional 4,041 men and women who participated in another study that asked similar questions about physical activity and people’s sense of purpose.
Finally, they collected and compared the results, first determining how much and how much people moved and how strong their sense of goals seemed to be. The researchers then assessed how these different aspects of people’s lives appeared to be related over the years and found clear overlaps. People who started out with active lives generally showed an increasing sense of goal over the years, and those whose sense of goal was more stable in the beginning were the most physically active years later.
The bandages were hardly oversized. A firm sense of the destination at some point in people’s lives was later tied to the equivalent of an additional weekly walk or two. However, the associations were consistent and remained statistically significant even when the researchers controlled people’s weight, income, education, general mental health, and other factors.
“It was particularly interesting to see these effects in the elderly,” says Dr. Yemiscigil.
However, this study was based on people’s subjective estimates of their exercise and convenience, which may be unreliable. The results are also associative, meaning that they show connections between a meaning for a particular point in your life and a later activity, or vice versa. So don’t prove that one causes the other.
Dr. However, Yemiscigil believes the associations are robust and rational. “People often report more self-efficacy,” she says after exercising, which could lead them to feel able, set new goals, and develop a new or expanded purpose in life. And on the other hand, “If you have goals and a sense of goals, you probably want to be healthy and live long enough to meet them.” So, keyword exercise, she says.