I post on a lot of subjects having to do with living longer. Most of them are indirect, like eat less; move more; live longer. But, an issue of the Harvard Health Letter focuses on something directly related to living longer. Namely, how you feel about yourself at your age.
Heidi Goldman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter writes, “I just celebrated a birthday, and not the kind women like to crow about. Let’s just say I’m mid-century modern. But I feel as young and as vibrant as ever. I have energy, a zest for life, and a real sense of purpose. And it turns out that this youthful feeling may pay off big-time. A research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine found that older people who felt three or more years younger than their actual (chronological) age had a lower death rate compared with those who felt their age or those who felt more than one year older than their actual age.
You’re as young as you feel
“Two researchers at University College London looked at the responses of about 6,500 men and women who answered the question, “How old do you feel you are?” The respondents were age 52 and older, with an average age of 65. Their answers:
• about 70% felt three or more years younger than their actual age
• 25% felt close to their actual age
• 5% felt more than one year older than their actual age
What came next was the really interesting part: Eight years after study participants answered the age question, researchers determined which ones were still alive:
• 75% of those who felt older than their age
• 82% of those who felt their actual age
• 86% of those who felt younger than their actual age.
More than just a state of mind?
“Did a youthful feeling keep people alive? There was no association between self-perceived age and cancer death. But researchers did find that the relationship between self-perceived age and cardiovascular death was strong. They speculate that feeling younger may lead to better health habits. “Feeling younger or older itself seems to have an effect on our health,” says Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, assistant professor of psychology, part time, at Harvard Medical School. (my emphasis)
“He says there are several ways that feeling younger psychologically might lead to better health. One is exercise. Good health is associated with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. “When people see themselves as old, they’re more likely to abandon physical challenges which feel difficult, such as, ‘I don’t think I should ski any more, I’m an old man.’ When people feel younger psychologically, even if physical exercise is challenging, they’re more likely to pursue it, believing no pain no gain,” Dr. Siegel explains.
“Another way that feeling younger leads to better health may be attitude about diet. “If we feel old, we’re likely to treat food with an ‘I won’t live much longer, I might as well enjoy this’ attitude which could lead us to eat unhealthfully. If we feel young, we may have more of a future-orientation that will lead us to eat with future health in mind.” Avoiding added sugars, trans fats and saturated fats, and increasing dietary fiber, good fats, whole grains, and omega 3 fatty acids is important for good health. Continue reading