Purpose in Life and Reduced Risk of Myocardial Infarction Among Older U.S. Adults with Coronary Heart Disease

A Two-Year Follow-Up

Can a sense of purpose reduce your risk of heart attack? This study shows that greater baseline purpose in life was associated with lower odds of myocardial infarction.

Physiological states or traits can impact health outcomes, such as myocardial infarction. This study investigates the association between purpose, defined as a sense of direction and meaning in one’s life, and myocardial infarction risk among U.S. adults over the age of 50 with coronary heart disease.

Key Findings:

  • Purpose in life may be a factor against myocardial infarction among high-risk groups with coronary heart disease.
  • Possible confounds, including coronary heart disease severity and self-rated health, were controlled for and the significant association remained.
  • Each purpose in life unit increase was associated with a multivariate-adjusted odds ratio of 0.73 for myocardial infarction.

Additional research is needed to better understand the impact of purpose in life on cardiovascular health as compared to other positive psychological variables and over different ages.

Data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative panel study surveying U.S. adults over the age of 50 conducted every two years, was used from 2006 and 2008. The study included 788 women and 756 men, with a mean age of 72.16 years. Purpose in life was assessed by respondent’s endorsement of items using a 6-point Likert scale.


This study is one in a series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio to explore Positive Health, an emerging concept that seeks to demonstrate that in addition to health risks, people also have health assets, which can be strengthened to produce a healthier life. These health assets could include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage.