The bidirectional relationship between sense of purpose in life and physical activity: a longitudinal study

Abstract

People with a greater sense of purpose in life may be more likely to engage in physical activity. At the same time, physical activity can contribute to a sense of purpose in life. The present research tests these hypotheses using a cross-lagged panel model in a nationally representative, longitudinal panel of American adults (N = 14,159, Mage = 68). An increase in sense of purpose in life was associated with higher physical activity four years later, above and beyond past activity levels. Physical activity was positively associated with future levels of sense of purpose in life, controlling for prior levels of purpose in life. Results held in a second national panel from the US with a nine-year follow-up (N = 4,041, Mage = 56). The findings demonstrate a bidirectional relationship between sense of purpose in life and physical activity in large samples of middle-aged and older adults tracked over time.

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

All data is publicly available. See http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/NACDA/ to access the data from Midlife in the US, and see http://hrsonline.isr.umich.edu to access the data Health and Retirement Study.

Code availability

The code is not publicly available.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Only one study, in which older women with pain were over-sampled, did not find a significant correlation between purpose in life and physical activity (Salt et al., 2017).

  2. 2.

    We did not rely on traditional chi2 statistics (χ2) since these are most often uninformative when the sample size is large as they easily lead to the rejection of the null hypothesis (Kelloway, 1995).

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Ayse Yemiscigil and Ivo Vlaev declare no funding.

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Ayse Yemiscigil contributed to conceptual development, formal analysis and writing. Ivo Vlaev provided critical feedback on the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ayse Yemiscigil.

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This research uses data from the Health and Retirement Study and Midlife in the US. All data is publicly available and de-identified and therefore has been exempt from review. The informed consent processes for the respondents in these datasets can be found in the studies’ respective websites: http://hrsonline.isr.umich.edu for the Health and Retirement Study and http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/NACDA/ for the Midlife in the US.

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Yemiscigil, A., Vlaev, I. The bidirectional relationship between sense of purpose in life and physical activity: a longitudinal study. J Behav Med (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-021-00220-2

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