Whether you're training for your first triathlon, looking to lose a few pounds, or chasing after that endorphin high, keeping up with a fitness routine usually involves a purpose. And reminding yourself of that purpose definitely helps when you need the motivation to make it to that 6 a.m. spin class.
But according to a new study, having an even greater sense of purpose—like the "meaning of life" kind—might also help you meet those gym goals.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver wanted to explore the idea that having a sense of purpose in your life—whether that be something like spirituality, success, or following a personal passion—correlates to greater physical activity. Previous research has shown a correlation between purpose and self-reported physical activity, but for this study, the researchers wanted to go beyond how much effort participants said they put in at the gym.
At the start of the study, a group of 100 people filled out questionnaires that measured their overall health as well as their sense of optimism and purpose in life. Then, they wore activity trackers for three days. The conclusion? Those who felt like their lives had some greater meaning were way more active than those who reported a more meaningless or apathetic worldview.
Previous research published in the journal Psychological Science has also shown that an overarching sense of purpose, direction, and long-term goals actually adds years to your life. (See: Can Going to Church Help You Live Longer?)
So how do you cultivate this greater sense of purpose? Doing outside of the gym exercises like journaling and setting long-term goals can help. But according to Jonathan Fader, Ph.D., a sports and high-performance psychologist in New York City, how you set those bigger goals is really what's important; goal setting should always focus on the deeper motivation. Rather than say "I want to go to the gym to lose weight" your goal should get at the greater purpose; more like "I want to go to the gym to lose weight and gain confidence so I can feel good about taking on bigger challenges in other areas of my life" Simply thinking about why you really want to be kicking ass will help you do it a lot better.