We all want to live long, healthy lives. Now a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry reports that having a sense of purpose could be an important factor in making that goal a reality.
According to TIME Health writer Amanda MacMillan, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from a national survey that asked U.S adults over 50 to answer survey questions about their health and well-being between 2006 and 2010.
As part of the study, the researchers also measured participants walking speed and grip strength. They found that individuals who had a greater sense of purpose in their life were 13 percent less likely to have poor grip strength and 14 percent less likely to develop walking issues than those who felt they didn’t have a purpose. MacMillan even writes that “For some, having high levels of purpose were even associated with an increase in walking speed over time—an effect equivalent to being 2.5 years younger,” according to the study authors.
There could be many explanations as to why this link exists, but the study authors wrote that “People with higher purpose are more proactive in taking care of their health, have better impulse control, and engage in healthier activities.” (It’s important to note that the study proved correlation, not causation.)
These findings add more weight to the idea that developing a sense of purpose-whether it’s through volunteering, art or relationships with loved ones— could be essential to aging gracefully and healthily.
Read more about the study in TIME Health.