Age is a state of mind. Why does it matter?

“He who is of calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition, youth and age are equally a burden,” said Plato, the Greek Philosopher.

Could Plato be right? Some people seem to flourish with age whilst others fizzle. However, scientists are discovering that ‘you are only as old as you feel’ may have important implications for health.

Professor Stephen Yannick from the University of Montpellier in France, wanted to know if the age people felt (not their actual age) was associated with how long they lived.

Data from three long-term studies on ageing were analyzed and included  17000 middle-aged and older people.

The results revealed that most people felt around eight years younger than their actual age. However, the researchers found something intriguing in those people who felt older than their actual age.

The people who felt eight, eleven and thirteen years older than their actual age had an increased risk of death by 18, 29 and 25%, respectively. To put it simply, the older people felt, the more likely they were to die.

The results stood not only for older people but also for middle-aged adults. What’s more, the relationship was consistent over time.

“The age people feel is a marker of their risk of mortality in adulthood and old age over both the short term (3 years) and long term (almost 20 years),” wrote Professor Yannick.

Why?

Many factors shape how people percieve their age. Scientists speculate that those with a younger outlook are more likely to lead healthier lifestyles, eat a balanced diet, keep active, attend health check-ups, and socialize, amongst other things.

People who do activities that help them feel good are more likely to keep doing them, which self-perpetuates. Biology may also play a role and personal attitudes towards ageing, which can be negative in societies where the ideal of youth is prized.

On the other hand, it’s easy to see how those diagnosed with a chronic illness, depression or anxiety that comes as memory declines can add to the burden of feeling older.

The study was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine and is the most extensive study of the effect of subjective age on mortality to date.

Reference

Stephan, Y., Sutin, A. R., & Terracciano, A. (2018). Subjective Age and Mortality in Three Longitudinal Samples. Psychosomatic medicine, 80(7), 659–664. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000613

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