According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Heidelberg, those who psychologically feel younger than they are, maintain their health into old age. Turns out that the whole “Age is just a number” is true.
More specifically, these evidenced increased cognitive functioning, less inflammation, lower risk of hospitalization, and increased longevity compared to those who feel their age or older. The primary reasoning seems to concern stress levels.
Previously conducted research has highlighted stress as an influential contributor to disease incidence, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure.
Feeling young keeps you healthy
Chronological age denotes the amount of time that has passed from one’s birth to a given date via years, months, and days.
Subjective age determines if one experiences themselves as younger or older than their chronological age.
“Generally, we know that functional health declines with advancing age, but we also know that these age-related functional health trajectories are remarkably varied. As a result, some individuals enter old age and very old age with quite good and intact health resources, whereas others experience a pronounced decline in functional health, which might even result in need for long-term care,” the study’s lead author, Markus Wettstein, PhD, who is now at the University of Heidelberg, explained. “Our findings support the role of stress as a risk factor for functional health decline, particularly among older individuals, as well as the health-supporting and stress-buffering role of a younger subjective age.”
The research was derived from three year’s worth of health data on 5,039 participants involved in a longitudinal survey of residents of 40 years of age and older called the German Ageing Survey.
Alongside querying the study pool on functional biomarkers like how much they were engaged in physical activity and maintained their personal hygiene, they were also asked after psychological impressions. Namely, how much stress they experienced on a given day and how old they felt.
Consistently, chronologically older participants who reported more stress in their lives demonstrated a starker decline in functional health over the three-year study period.
This correlation was present among every age group examined but it was much more pronounced for older participants. Which is to say, younger populations who felt younger than they reported high well-being and functional health marks but to a lesser degree compared to elderly populations who reported the same.
Promoting positive views on aging is key
The authors go on to suggest that the strength of their new findings bridges the gap between mental health and ageism awareness.
“The results suggest that interventions that aim to help people feel younger could reduce the harm caused by stress and improve health among older adults,” the authors wrote in a media release.
“Messaging campaigns to counteract ageism and negative age stereotypes and to promote positive views on aging could help people feel younger. In addition, more general stress-reduction interventions and stress management training could prevent functional health loss among older adults.
Feeling younger to some extent might be adaptive for functional health outcomes, whereas ‘feeling too young’ might be less adaptive or even maladaptive.”
The authors intend to conduct further research to more accurately determine a health balance between chronological and subjective age.