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The Secret To Longevity: Does Your Life Have Purpose?

Neuroaffect Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

An image of an older man smiling at someone standing behind himPeople have always searched for the secret to longevity. In the middle ages, many alchemists would concoct batches of potions in an attempt to find the elixir of life. More recently, studies on genes indicate that some populations may be prone to living longer. Other studies have considered environmental factors and modern medicine. However, the answer to a longer lifespan may be much simpler than most people want to believe.

What is The Secret to Longevity?

According to research, the secret to longevity may be linked to having a sense of purpose in life. One study followed the lives of more than 6,000 people aged fifty and over for more than a decade. It showed that those who felt their lives were without purpose died at a younger age than their counterparts who felt they led purpose-filled lives.

How is Purpose a Secret to Longevity?

Before considering the role of purpose as a part of the secret to longevity, you first need to understand the meaning of purpose. More accurately, you need to understand what is meant by the term ‘life purpose’. These terms refer to the things in life that are the most important to you. For a businessman, it may be his reputation. For someone else, it may be their spiritual life. For another, their contribution to society may be considered most valuable.

Finding Your Purpose

When you’re young and active, you may not think about your life’s purpose. This is because you would most probably be living it. Your purpose may be getting ahead in your career, creating a home, or even raising your children. But what happens once retirement sets in?

Many of us live our lives looking forward to retirement. Yet very few of us think about what we are going to do once this milestone occurs. We have raised our families, we have achieved what we wanted in our careers, and we have our homes. Now what? What is left for us to do?

The first step to finding purpose (or the secret to longevity), requires doing some homework. You should ask yourself what you like to do. Discover your passions and skills. After some brainstorming, you should be able to find that special thing and act on it.

If you draw a blank and come up with nothing, then you can consider your social media interests for input. What topics do you follow and/or comment on? That could be an indication. You should also listen to feedback from your relatives and friends. Do they compliment your cooking? Do they tell you that you have a generous heart because you are always helping someone in need? These are additional indicators that you should consider when searching for your purpose in retirement.

How Purpose Impacts Longevity

While the search for the secret to longevity is fairly recent, some regions are known for their longevity. Researchers found pockets of people in certain areas of the globe living far longer than those in other first world countries. These areas were dubbed Blue Zones by the scientific community.

These people were from diverse cultures and lived in different environments and climates. They all seemed to have nine things in common:

  • Purpose: They had a purpose or a reason for waking up every morning.
  • Exercise: They all undertook some form of exercise. However, this exercise was of a natural sort, e.g. gardening. They also did not make use of modern conveniences to get things done easier.
  • Destressing: We are all subject to stress in some shape or form. But, what these centennials all have in common is that they implement means of destressing. These methods include taking a midday nap, or relaxing with family and friends.
  • Diet: Most of their diets are low in calories and include pulses like beans, black beans, and lentils. Meat is eaten only on special occasions.
  • Eating habits: People in the Blue Zones tend to eat much less than their counterparts following a typical Western diet. They do not eat until they feel ‘full’ and consume their smallest meal late in the day. Once they’ve eaten, they do not eat again until the next day.
  • An image of two people toasting with glasses of red wine with a roasted chicken dinner in the backgroundWine: Interestingly, most people in the Blue Zones drink wine regularly. But, they drink wine in moderation and usually with friends or during a meal. Here, moderation means no more than two units of wine per day.
  • A sense of belonging: The majority of the centenarians from the Blue Zones have a sense of belonging. They are also usually linked to a faith-based community.

Other Research About the Secret to Longevity

With regards to purpose and the secret to longevity, research has much to offer. Longevity has been correlated with:

  • A lower cardiovascular risk
  • Lower weight
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Better neuroendocrine regulation (i.e. a lower level of salivary cortisol throughout each day)
  • Lower inflammatory factors
  • Reduced risk of cognitive impairment, e.g. Alzheimer’s
  • Lower rate of depression

There are also different health conditions, such as adrenal fatigue, that adversely affect longevity. These are also related to stress and its resulting symptoms.

The Secret to Longevity: The Neuroaffect Circuit

Your body has its internal stress management system: the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response. The Neuroaffect Circuit is one of six biological circuits within the NEM that work at managing stress. The Neuroaffect Circuit consists of the brain, autonomic nervous system, and microbiome, and plays a role with regards to mental health issues. This triad, i.e. brain, gut, and the autonomic nervous system communicates using neurotransmitters.

Stress harms brain health. Higher than normal stress levels also mean higher levels of stress hormones that could affect your brain centers that regulate your emotional response and cognitive abilities. Learning difficulties and other psychological issues may arise, as well as certain physiological issues such as an increased risk of stroke. The inflammation resulting from chronic stress may also lead to depression.

Having a purpose is a part of the secret to longevity because it gives you the motivation to deal with stressful situations more productively. This ability to recover more easily may leave you feeling more positive about your purpose in life.


An image of an older couple and their grandson playing outdoorsThe secret to longevity might have many factors that work together to result in a long, productive life. However, the purpose seems to play a major role in longevity. The key is to identify those factors that are right for you and then implement them. Doing something meaningful for yourself and others is a part of the secret to longevity that each of us can easily attain.

© Copyright 2020 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

Research has found many health and lifestyle aspects that could lead to a longer life. Yet the secret to longevity may lie in finding your purpose in life, or something to wake up for each morning. Having a purpose may result in both mental and physical wellbeing.

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