Can feeling young at heart help you live longer?

The age you feel is a better predictor of health than the date on your birth certificate, study confirms.

How old would you be if your age were unknown? Would it make a difference to how you feel?

The well-known saying ‘you are only as old as you feel’ has some evidence to support it. Feeling younger than our actual age has previously been linked to lower dementia risk and better mental health.

When Professor Andrew Steptoe and Isla Rippon from University College London analysed data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, they found subjective age – the age people feel – carried more weight in terms of health and longevity than actual age.

The 6489 people in the study were asked how old they felt and then followed up 8-years later to identify those who had died. All participants were aged over 52 years at the start of the study.

The research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found those who felt three or more years younger than their actual age had a lower death rate than those who felt their age or older.

Twenty-five per cent of people who felt older than their age had died during the eight years compared to fourteen per cent of those who felt younger.

The researchers asked whether those who felt older were more unwell than those who felt younger. So they measured other factors such as, pre-existing chronic illness, mobility problems, lifestyles, depression and cognitive function, which explained some of the results.

However, considering all the above factors, people who felt older than their actual age were 41% more likely to die in the eight years than those who felt younger.

The researchers also found a strong association between self-perceived age and cardiovascular death but not from cancer.

Why?

Researchers speculate that people who feel young for their age may have healthier lifestyles such as eating a balanced diet or keeping physically and socially active. Biology may also play a role, as well as having a sense of purpose in life.

Reference:

Rippon I, Steptoe A. Feeling Old vs Being Old: Associations Between Self-perceived Age and Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(2):307–309. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.6580

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