“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter,” said Mark Twain, and he could be right.
We all know of people aged over 80 who have a zest for life despite being old, and others who reach 40 and claim they are over the hill. Some people feel old at 30, and others are young at 70. However, whilst we all get older, we don’t all feel old, and scientists are exploring why.
It seems asking how old we feel can tell a lot about our health. So researchers from Seoul University in South Korea wanted to see whether older adults perceived age – known as subjective age – was the same as their actual brain age.
The scientists asked healthy people between the ages of 59-84 whether they felt older or younger than their actual age. The participants also completed assessments to determine their general health, cognitive ability and had an MRI scan to measure the volume of grey matter in the brain – the nerve tissue in the brain and spinal cord.
The research published in the journal Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience found the people who felt younger than their actual age scored better on memory tests, considered themselves healthier, and felt less depressed.
What’s more, the MRI scans showed that the people who felt younger also had more grey matter in key brain regions typically found in younger brains.
Why? The scientists don’t know for sure whether younger brains are responsible for a person’s perceived age. However, they speculate that the people who felt younger than their actual age may have more active lifestyles, which improved their brain health.
It’s also possible the people who felt older than their age were more aware of the ageing process – the changes in cognition that occur when the grey matter in the brain is lost, making everyday tasks more difficult – which is why they felt older.
Either way, how old you feel matters. It’s never too late to develop a more youthful mindset. Try new things, develop new skills, connect with others, exercise and eat healthily are all ways that may improve brain health.
Kwak.S., Kim.H., Chey.J., and Youm.Y. (2018). Felling How Old I am: Subjective Age is Associated with Estimated Brain Age. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience; 10 DOI:10.3389/fnagi.2018.00168.