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How old do you feel?

— by Adrienne Wyper

Photo: Ageing Better & Bias Cut

 

Not to be confused with ‘feeling your age’ – a whole different concept – feeling younger than your years can affect your wellbeing, but in a good way. Many of us don’t ‘feel’ that we are the age we actually are. There’s a difference between our chronological age and how old we feel – this is known as our ‘subjective age’ or ‘perceived age’. My grandma often said she still felt 21 inside; I feel quite a bit older than that, but younger than my 59 years. And, this can be good for you.

 

Assessing the age gap

The financial services company Legal & General carried out a survey in 2019, asking just over 1,000 people about their ‘three ages’, ie chronological age, as well as mental age, defined as ‘how old our personalities and mindsets make us feel relative to others’, and physical age, or ‘how old the condition of our bodies makes us feel’.

And the results? Eight out of 10 people felt mentally younger than their actual age and 56% felt physically younger. The average ‘age gap’ between actual and mental age widens as we get older, so at 60 people feel like they’re 42.

The average gap between physical age and mental age is smaller, with 60-year-olds feeling 54, on average, although one in three people say their bodies make them feel older than their chronological age. Certainly, when I had two frozen shoulders, making everyday activities like putting on a coat or getting on a bus, harder and painful, I felt like a more elderly version of myself.

 

Greetings card from the TNMA Edit

 

The survey also looked at what activities make you feel youthful. Exploring the outdoors, travelling, live events and socialising scored highly and similarly for both men and women. However, coming as no surprise to anyone who’s been near a dance-floor, for 77% of women, dancing had the youth connection, which was true for just 46% of men.

Issues that make us feel older were aches and pains, affecting a third of respondents. Those who feel older than their chronological age may generate more health-damaging stress.

In a study of 10,000 adults, Yannick Stephan and his colleagues at Montpellier University showed that feeling older than our age is associated with a 25% increase in the risk of being hospitalised in the coming years. ‘Subjective age is a good marker of physical, mental and biological health status,’ says Stephan. He suggests that doctors should ask people for their subjective age as a diagnostic tool. ‘It’s information obtained by asking a simple question, without taking blood samples and without a medical examination, but it gives precious indications,’ he said. And those who are more likely to have health problems as they age could benefit from personalised health programs.

Other research in Israel has showed positive effects for young-feeling individuals in recovery from strokes and osteoporosis-related fractures. And researchers analysing three years of data from over 5,000 participants in the German Ageing Survey, suggested that feeling younger could help buffer middle-aged and older adults against the damaging effects of stress.

 

That’s Not My Age greetings card

 

The shock of the big 6-0

The idea of actual age versus the age we feel hit me recently, when I realised I’ll be 60 next year. It seems ridiculous that this suddenly dawned on me: I do know what year it is, when I was born and how old I am now, so the maths is quite simple… (And I was looking at my pensions spreadsheet at the time; bit of a clue to my life stage there!)

But, stupid as it sounds, it really did take me by surprise. I just didn’t feel ready for my existence to be associated with the number 60, in terms of having done that many revolutions around the Sun (although thinking about that celestial activity made me feel that was an impressive number of l-o-n-g journeys.)

My state of mind isn’t denial, vanity, a quest to regain youth… The phrase that best seemed to sum it up is ‘I don’t identify as 60’, although that presupposes that I have a fixed idea of what 60-year-olds are like, and what they’re like is not what I’m like. But, of course, I have lots of friends around and over-60, and they’re a lot like me…

Some people have an issue with being negative about ageing, because not everyone makes it. I’m well aware that getting older is a privilege; I know I’m, sadly, not the only one who’s seen friends and family die too young.

Mind you, I do have form on advance anxiety about ageing: I was troubled by turning 39, but then my 40th was just another happy birthday, so here’s hoping that’s how it goes again.

(And don’t try to comfort me by mentioning the “free bus pass”. I don’t live in London and I don’t get mine until I’m 67!)

 

Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor. 

 

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That’s Not My Age greetings cards are from the ongoing collaboration with Dandy Star, available HERE.

 

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