It’s Healthy to Feel Younger Than Your Age

Worthy of note is a research paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine in December 2014. The study, performed by Isla Rippon and Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London (UCL) Epidemiology & Public Health, examined the relationship between self-perceived age and mortality in a long-term study of aging in Britain.

The results of the study were noteworthy and downright exhilarating, concluding that “older people (the 6,489 individuals studied had a chronological age averaging 65.8 years) who felt three or more years younger than their chronological age had a lower death rate compared with those who felt their age or who felt more than one year older than their actual age,” according to the press release from UCL. Professor Steptoe is quoted by CBS News: “People who felt younger than their real age were more likely to survive over the next eight years or so compared to those who felt older.”

The UCL press release reports that the “mechanisms underlying these associations” merit further investigation:  “Possibilities include a broader set of health behaviours than we measured (such as maintaining a healthy weight and adherence to medical advice), and greater resilience, sense of mastery and will to live among those who feel younger than their age. Self-perceived age has the potential to change, so interventions may be possible. Individuals who feel older than their actual age could be targeted with health messages promoting positive health behaviours and attitudes toward ageing.”

Sadly, some journalists have taken this study as a green light for lying about one’s age. The study does not suggest, however, as published in O, the Oprah Magazine, that “Shaving a few years off your age may actually help you live longer,” or, as published by CNN:  “Go ahead lie about your age. It may be the very thing that helps you live a longer life.”

Feeling younger than one’s age is very different from lying about one’s age. And indeed, about two-thirds of the individuals studied by UCL met the criterion of feeling three of more years younger than their actual age (the average self-perceived age was about 57).

I very much enjoy the surprised expressions on people’s faces when I tell them my actual age. Isn’t that much preferable to pretending I’m, say, 10 or 15 or even just three years younger?  What’s the point of that?  I feel significantly younger than my chronological age.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that living with a rather large whopper of a lie about one’s age is likely to cause additional stress, shortening one’s life. Whether and when there will be a medical study on that issue remains to be seen.

I say embrace your real age — revel in it, with all the experiences and adventures of your life.

Oh yes, and, in case you’re wondering, as in the last line from one of my favorite movies of all time, Murphy’s Romance, let me conclude by saying, “I’m  sixty.”