You might be surprised to know this but simply feeling young can add more years to your life.
Researchers at the University College London confirmed this. They asked 6500 participants who were 52 years and older, “How old do you feel you are?”. They followed up eight years later to see which participants were still alive; the results were mind-boggling.
The greatest percentage of those who were alive (86%) were those who had responded that they felt younger than their actual age compared to 75% of those who felt older than their age and 82% of those who actually felt their age.
The question is how can simply feeling young prolong your life?
The answer lies in both common sense and research.
Common sense would argue that when you feel more youthful than you really are, you are more motivated to invest in your health because you believe it’s worth it. Consequently, the effort you put in your health pays off and you are less prone to health risks.
In contrast, when you feel old, that motivation is lost. “I am close to dying anyways, so why make the effort?” you’re likely to think. You stop taking care of your health which is why you are highly likely to develop a number of health problems.
Now towards research.
Numerous studies suggest that feeling younger can impact your physical functioning. In one study, researchers gave participants (aged between 52 and 91 years) a hand gripping task to evaluate their physical strength. Those who were made to believe that they were stronger than the other group actually felt younger and demonstrated better physical strength than those who were not.
These highly interesting findings bring into the conversation the psychological concept of ‘self-efficacy’ which refers to your belief in your own ability to succeed. If you perceive yourself as young, you also perceive yourself as strong which pushes you to do hard things such as physically challenging exercises, setting and achieving big goals which undoubtedly keeps you healthier and prolongs your life.
The other explanation has to do with stress as shown by this recent study. There’s no denying the fact that stress is detrimental to health and responsible for a number of respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, muscular and immune system health problems.
However, subjective age can act as a stress buffer. This means that the feeling of being young acts as a shield and protects your health from the negative effects of stress. If it doesn’t make sense, let me explain using science.
First of all, we all agree that those who perceive themselves as young or ‘still a kid at heart’ are more likely to indulge in activities such as exercising, meditation, laughing, making love, dancing, athletics etc. These activities release the ‘happy hormones’ inside you that include serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. These hormones stabilise your mood, release pain, motivate you and make you happy in general. Hence, they ‘buffer’ you from stress.
How to Feel Younger and Live Longer
If you’re reading this article, I’m betting you want to live longer. You want to achieve more in your life, spend more time with your loved ones, have a lot of free time after you’ve retired so you can simply relax and enjoy.
There are plenty of ways you can feel more youthful. Dr. Ronald D Siegel, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School suggests the following:
- Be open to new experiences. Learn new things, try new things, challenge yourself, and don’t be afraid to experiment with life. Don’t think, “I’m too old to do this”, or “My best days are behind me”. Go skiing, join your local dance club, write a book. Remember, you’re only as old as you think you are.
- Practice mindfulness. With declining age, it’s easy to get lost in regrets, remorse, anger, and things of the past. You can get caught in a vicious cycle of thinking things like “If only I had…”, “If only so and so hadn’t done this to me”, and “I wish…”. By being stuck in the past, you lose the time you have at hand. Ever observed a child closely? A child doesn’t think about what happened yesterday or what may happen in the future, he’s completely immersed in the task at hand, the present moment. Become like a child. To do this, practice mindfulness meditation and bring your attention to the present whenever you get lost in thoughts.
- Engage in meaningful activities. When you feel you’re old, you also tend to feel you’re useless. Engaging in a meaningful activity gives you a sense of purpose. It gives you something to look forward to every day. So whether it’s gardening, reading, writing, knitting, teaching, or community service, find something that adds meaning to your life.
People may tell you you’re too old but you don’t have to believe it. You can choose to stay young at heart, improve your health and add more years to your life.