Is Age Really Just a Number?
When it comes to longevity, birthdays might be a quantitative occurrence but not always a qualitative determinate on how people feel. And for those who feel younger than each flip of the year, evidence shows they may be living longer.
A research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine found people who felt three or more years younger than their actual (or chronological) age had a lower death rate compared to those who felt their age, or more than one year older their actual age in particular.
Researchers at the University College London sampled approximately 6,500 men and women aged 52 and older, with an average age of close to 66. The researchers then asked, “How old do you feel you are?” to measure self-perceived age. The responses included:
- Close to 70% of respondents felt 3 or more years younger than their actual age.
- About 26% identified a self-perceived age close to their chronologic age.
- Almost 5% felt more than 1 year older than their chronologic age.
Eight years after study participants answered the question regarding to their age, researchers determined which ones were still alive:
- 75% of those who felt older than their age.
- 82% of those who felt their actual age.
- 86% of those who felt younger than their actual age.
As if the evidence is not compelling enough, even newer research published in Frontiers found feeling younger could mean slower brain aging. More specifically, researchers found that elderly people who feel younger than their age had a younger estimated brain age compared to those who felt their age or older than it, including scoring high on memory tests and reporting less depressive symptoms.
“We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain,” states Dr. Jeanyung Chey of Seoul National University and leader of the study in a Frontiers post. “Importantly, this difference remains robust even when other possible factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for.”
All in Your Head?
Though more evidence is warranted, there are a few likely explanations that link feeling and growing younger.
“Possibilities include a broader set of health behaviors than we measured (such as maintaining a healthy weight and adherence to medical advice), and greater resilience, sense of mastery, and will to live among those who feel younger than their age,” concludes the study from JAMA Internal Medicine.
“If somebody feels older than their age, it could be sign for them to evaluate their lifestyle, habits and activities that could contribute to brain aging and take measures to better care for their brain health,” said Chey. The researchers hypothesize that those who feel older may be able to sense the aging process in their brain, as their loss of gray matter may make cognitive tasks more challenging.
The researchers ultimately suggest that elderly people who feel older than their age should consider caring for their brain health.
How to Stay Younger than Your Age
So then what is the secret to caring for brain health and feeling younger than your age? Researchers have unlocked the following keys to longer living:
Forget the Calendar
“Too many people, when they get old, think that they have to live by the calendar,” stated John Glenn the oldest person to board a U.S. Space Shuttle at age 77.
What this truly signifies is age should not define us nor should the calendar dictate how we feel. Locking oneself onto the chronological age the calendar automates may restrict from our fullest potential; but unleashing from it can open up numerous opportunities at any age.
Associate Yourself with Youth and Positivity
Separate yourself from the negative stigmas of growing older and gravitate towards more positive and youthful people, including by working out with motivated people at a local gym or simply sparking conversation at a coffee shop.
Besides, sustaining social connections can reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which are great risks for morbidity and mortality according to a 2015 meta-analysis.
Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle
Adopting a nutritious diet, a regular exercise regimen, and other lifestyle factors is key for maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing the risks of chronic diseases, and adding on longer, healthy years of life.
What’s more, “Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and physical activity should remain the cornerstone in the prevention of chronic diseases and the promotion of healthy aging,” suggests research from the Aging Cell.
Preserve A Sense of Purpose
Preserving a sense of purpose is key for happier, healthier living. However, growing older often means changes in regards to children having their own families and retiring from lifelong careers.
Fortunately, there are a number of various avenues to re-spark that internal drive, including through hobbies, volunteer work, a part-time job, and spirituality. Considering a pet can also reduce feelings of isolation and depression and increase feelings of motivation and security.
Take Daily Control
Self-perceived age is not necessarily a fixed belief, but actually has the potential to change daily according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
Researchers Dr. Jennifer Bellingtier of Friedrich Schiller University and Dr. Shevaun Neupert of North Carolina State University enlisted 116 older adults (aged 60 to 90) and 106 younger adults (aged 18 to 36) and asked them to complete surveys each day for nine days, which included a series of statements related to level of control with a corresponding answer of how old they felt that day.
They found significant day-to-day variability in subjective age in both groups over the course of the study, but further identified an association between perceived level of control each day and subjective age in the older adult group but not the younger group.
“Our research suggests that subjective age changes on a daily basis and older adults feel significantly younger on days when they have a greater sense of control,” further explaining, “Shaping the daily environment in ways that allow older adults to exercise more control could be a helpful strategy for maintaining a youthful spirit and overall well-being,” said Bellingtier.