‘You are only as old as you feel’ stands by its words and proves to be right! Growing old is a natural process. I remember my child asking me ‘When will I grow up like you Mama’? every time I do something for her that requires adult supervision. As children we are eager to grow up, as teenagers we are much eager to explore the world around us, as youngsters we are ready to jump at every opportunity possible and settle down. Beyond this phase is where the desire to grow up stagnates and we wish to stay young forever. Salt-and-pepper hair, stuttering energy and lack of interest follow through our late 40s and 50s after which people become even more frustrated with life. This is the common feeling experienced by many (not by all!). There are a few who take control of their life and enjoy the ageing process as much as they enjoyed the growing up process! So, what plays a major role in ascertaining our thoughts and actions as we grow old?
Subjective Age Defines Physical & Mental Health
A majority of the population feel younger or older than their age and this feeling termed as subjected age predicts overall well-being. For example, if you were to guess your age without any proofs of birth the answer you give would be your subjective age. It might be the result of your looks, maturity, height and growth but people in their 22s or 28s look alike sometimes. The answer you share with others defines your thoughts about growing old. Its also not uncommon to see some people becoming more charming and enthused with life as they grow old. Apart from mental feelings and health subjective age also predicts your risk of death!
People generally feel younger than their actual age after their mid-20s and there are studies showing feeling younger puts you at a lesser risk of depression, greater mental well-being, lesser chances of falling ill and better overall health. A team of researchers analyzed data of more than 17,000 individuals (middle-aged and elderly) and found that most people felt younger by 8 years or so compared to their actual age. Those who felt almost 8-13 years older than their actual age were at an 18-25% greater risk of death/disease.
Ageing: Roller Coaster Cycle
Its been shown than children and adolescents generally feel older than their age, more than 50% of 20-year-old individuals want to grow up but once they cross 26 more than 70% would like to grow younger. Psychologists theorize that people feel younger than their age to distance themselves from the negative thoughts that surround aging but again we feel of a different age every time we are in a different surrounding. For instance, someone might feel older at work but at home in the company of cousins the same person might feel younger (at heart!). People with a lower subjective age look forward to a brighter and positive future compared to others.
A recent research has found that when older people have a younger subjective age or feel younger than their chronological age, they were at a higher chance of experiencing positive outcomes. The study included 116 older adults (aged 60 to 90) and 106 younger adults (aged 18 to 36) who took up a survey each day for nine days. Each of them was questioned about their level of control on the day’s daily activities every day and were asked to answer questions of how old they felt that day. Researchers could find that the participant’s perception of his/her subjective age varied greatly among people belonging to the older adult group every day during the study based on the level of control exercised on that particular day.
Researchers predicted that allowing a certain degree of control on the day’s activity could increase overall well-being and help older participants feel younger. Apart from control, doing a certain amount of physical activity and leading an active lifestyle every day are sure shot ways to make someone feel young at heart. Read more about leading an active lifestyle and eating healthy food by visiting the website www.firsteatright.com. The same research team conducted another research on 59 adults aged between 35 and 69 who were devoid of any physical activity. These people were given a fitness tracker and asked to monitor their steps for 5 weeks at the end of which results showed that people with an increase in step count displayed lower subjective age comparatively. Although this is a study done on an extremely small population it provides us with clues to move forward in the right direction.
Feel Young, Stay Young
Subjective age holds a greater power on our health and researchers feel that doctors should start questioning patients about their subjective age. This helps them to identify the set of patients at a higher risk of future health problems and plan for their health effectively. Individuals predict their subjective age depending on multiple factors such as aches, pains, illnesses, physical activity, social engagement and energy. Hence, it is smarter to focus on these factors, improve them and feel younger than the actual chronological age.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.