David Robson in BBC Future writes about the fact that most people feel younger or older than they really are – and this ‘subjective age’ has a big effect on their physical and mental health.
The number of years that have passed since you first entered the world is an unchangeable fact. But everyday experience suggests that we often don’t experience ageing the same way, with many people feeling older or younger than they really are.
Scientists are increasingly interested in this quality. They are finding that your ‘subjective age’ may be essential for understanding the reasons that some people appear to flourish as they age – while others fade. “The extent to which older adults feel much younger than they are may determine important daily or life decisions for what they will do next,” says Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia.
Some studies have shown that your sense of age can even predict health outcomes.
The studies started slowly in the 1970s and have accelerated in the recent past. Some findings include:
- While most people become more mellow and wise with age, those who are subjectively younger have these qualities but with the energy and exuberance of youth.
- Feeling younger than your years also seems to come with a lower risk of depression and greater mental wellbeing as we age.
- Most people feel about 8 years younger than they are. But some when feeling between 8 and 13 years older than your actual age resulted in an 18-25% greater risk of death over the study periods.
But the mechanism linking physical and mental wellbeing to subjective age almost certainly acts in both directions. If you feel depressed, forgetful, and physically vulnerable, you are likely to feel older. The result could be a vicious cycle, with psychological and physiological factors both contributing to a higher subjective age and worse health, which makes us feel even older and more vulnerable.
Read the full article: The age you feel means more than your actual birthdate
David Robson is a science writer based in London, UK.
Photo by Chris Hays on Flickr