Health Benefits of Engaging In Meaningful Activity

Proof that doing things that matter to you helps you stay healthy.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community 2000

Source: Robert D. Putnam

Civic engagement has fallen dramatically over the last generation. More Americans are bowling today than ever before, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted. Virtually all leisure activities that involve doing something with someone else are declining. Some reasons for this decline include changes in family structure, suburban sprawl, electronic entertainment, and generational change.

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A Reliability and Validity Study of the Meaningful Activity Participation Assessment 2007


PhD dissertation undertaking an in-depth review of the research on meaningful activity and how it influences health and well-being as we age. The paper addresses the development and validation of the Meaningful Activity Participation Assessment (MAPA), concluding that the MAPA survey is a reliable and valid measure of meaningful activity participation.

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The Meaningful Activity Participation Assessment: A Measure of Engagement in Personally Valued Activities 2010

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine (originally published in International Journal of Aging and Human Development)

Study of older Los Angeles residents which used several surveys, including the “Meaningful Activity Participation Assessment” (MAPA) survey, where people indicated their participation in and the degree of personal meaningfulness they felt while doing 28 different activities. The study supports prior research linking activity such as volunteering or engagement in work with purpose in life. In addition, the study suggests that participating in activities having greater personal significance may have more influence upon well being and quality of life than participation in a greater number activities that are less personally significant.

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Feeling How Old I Am: Subjective Age Is Associated With Estimated Brain Age 2018

Source: Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

Korean study finding that people who had a younger “Subjective Age” (i.e. felt younger than their actual age) were more likely to score higher on a memory test, considered their health to be better and were less likely to report depressive symptoms. In addition, those who felt younger than their age showed structural characteristics of a younger brain on MRI tests.

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Life Course Trajectories of Later-Life Cognitive Functions: Does Social Engagement in Old Age Matter? 2017

Source: International Journal of Environmental and Public Health

Study using 12 years of data finds that increases in social engagement over time were associated with higher degrees of cognitive health. In contrast, when older individuals experienced a reduced social network and became less engaged with neighbors in their community, they were more likely to have declining cognitive functioning. Also the study found that volunteering is a protective factor in cognitive decline. Individuals who volunteered were, over time, more likely to belong to the least vulnerable (i.e. the healthiest) groups. In contrast, when older individuals stopped volunteering, they were more likely to experience declining health.

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How Can We Not ‘Lose It’ if We Still Don’t Understand How to ‘Use It’? Unanswered Questions about the Influence of Activity Participation on Cognitive Performance in Older Age – A Mini-Review 2009

Source: (Originally published in Gerontology)

Survey of research regarding the “use it or lose it” hypothesis of cognitive aging-which posits that engagement in physical, social, and intellectual activities in older adulthood prevents the deterioration of cognitive abilities. This is also called the “engagement hypothesis.” This paper describes the research in this area and also suggests areas where new research should be done to further understand the relationship between activity participation and cognition.

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Civic Engagement as a Retirement Role for Aging Americans 2008

Source: The Gerontologist

Iowa study found that “engaged retirees” who volunteered or took a paid job tied to civic engagement were more educated, in better health, and more physically active than other retirees.

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Satisfaction and Engagement in Retirement 2005

Source: The Urban Institute (The Retirement Project–Perspectives of Productive Aging)

Study of retirees in the U.S. reinforces other studies that show that people who are engaged in certain activities (paid work, formal volunteering, informal volunteering) are more likely to be satisfied than those not engaged in these activities. The study also highlights the negative impact of caregiving on life satisfaction, when caregiving is the sole focus or when caregivers are providing care for more than one family member.

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