In a new study from at University of Heidelberg, researchers found that people who feel younger have a greater sense of well-being, better cognitive functioning, less inflammation, lower risk of hospitalization and even live longer than their older-feeling peers.
They suggest one potential reason for the link between subjective age and health: Feeling younger could help buffer middle-aged and older adults against the damaging effects of stress.
In the study, published in, the team analyzed three years of data from 5,039 participants in the German Ageing Survey, a longitudinal survey of residents of Germany age 40 and older.
The survey included questions about the amount of perceived stress in peoples’ lives and their functional health—how much they were limited in daily activities such as walking, dressing and bathing.
The researchers found, on average, participants who reported more stress in their lives experienced a steeper decline in functional health over three years.
The link between stress and functional health decline was stronger for chronologically older participants.
However, subjective age seemed to provide a protective buffer.
Among people who felt younger than their chronological age, the link between stress and declines in functional health was weaker. That protective effect was strongest among the oldest participants.
The results suggest that interventions that aim to help people feel younger could reduce the harm caused by stress and improve health among older adults.
Further study is needed to help determine what kind of interventions would work best. For example, messaging campaigns to counteract ageism and negative age stereotypes and to promote positive views on aging could help people feel younger.
In addition, more general stress-reduction interventions and stress management training could prevent functional health loss among older adults.
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The study is published in Psychology and Aging. One author of the study is Markus Wettstein, Ph.D.
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