WEDNESDAY, May 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Can feeling young at heart, or at least younger than your actual age, help older people live healthier, longer lives?
Yes, according to researchers in Germany.
“Individuals who feel younger than they chronologically are seem to benefit from their younger subjective age in various aspects,” explained study lead author Markus Wettstein.
Surveying more than 5,000 middle-aged adults and seniors, his team found that feeling younger seems to create a protective force field against stress. And the “connection seems to work via various pathways,” said Wettstein, who was a researcher with the German Centre of Gerontology in Berlin when the study was conducted.
On the one hand, he noted that stress reduction due to a youthful self-perception may translate into tangible physical benefits, including staving off the threat of systemic inflammation.
Having a youthful sense of self may also shape behavior in positive ways that help to keep physical and mental well-being intact.
“Individuals who feel younger [may] engage in health-protective behaviors,” Wettstein said. For example, they may be more physically active than those who don’t feel quite as young.
In addition, perceiving oneself to be younger might also be a motivating force behind self-improvement, giving folks a greater “health-enhancing” confidence in their ability to accomplish things successfully and effectively.
The study participants’ average age was 64. All were enrolled in a larger ongoing study on aging and physical and mental health.
Over three years, they were asked to indicate how old they felt, how much stress they experienced, and how well they could perform basic everyday activities, such as walking, dressing and/or bathing.
Overall, those who reported greater stress also indicated a greater decline in their ability to execute those routine tasks. And that association was generally found to be stronger as people aged.
But the link between stress and impairment was notably weaker among those who indicated they felt younger than their true age. In fact, feeling younger was found to be particularly protective the longer-toothed one actually got.