People who are feeling 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. A study published by the American Psychological Association suggests 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.
Most adults in middle adulthood and later life feel younger than they are. When the divergence between chronological and subjective age is considered as a simple subtraction score, this discrepancy increases, according to some evidence, with advancing. In contrast, when calculating the discrepancy relative to an individual’s chronological age such a discrepancy score remains more constant over chronological age, with individuals aged 40 and older feeling on average about 20% younger than their age.
According to accumulating empirical evidence, feeling younger comes with various benefits for key developmental including better cognitive and brain functioning. Subjective age seems 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 in a recent study.
The results of this recent study suggest that interventions that aimed to help people feel younger could reduce the harm caused by stress and improve health among older adults. In addition, more general stress-reduction interventions and stress management training could prevent functional health loss among older adults.
Besides the direct effect of subjective age on change in functional health, the study also found, as expected, evidence of an indirect effect. Specifically, the detrimental effect of perceived stress on change in functional health was smaller among individuals who felt younger. This stress buffer effect of subjective age has been reported before with regard to functional health and other outcomes including recent evidence on the protective role of subjective age in this very stressful period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, our finding that a younger subjective age has a stress buffering role also implies that an older subjective age is a vulnerability factor that exacerbates the risk of poor physical and mental health from stressful situations.
The findings of this study support the role of stress as a risk factor for functional health decline, particularly among older individuals, as well as the health-supporting and stress-buffering role of a younger subjective age. Existing conceptions of subjective age might need to be refined, as a younger subjective age is not only a direct protective determinant of health, it also seems to operate indirectly as a stress-buffering resource.
Source: TheAmerican Psychological Association,