How old am I? / It does not matter! / I am the age I want and feel! / But it’s not how old I am, nor what people say, / but what my heart feels and my brain dictates.
We ask a lot about age, that chronological age that is so easy to calculate, so quantitative, so mathematical. To answer, it is enough to subtract the year of birth from the current year. But what does that data contribute? Does it offer a lot of information?
The truth is that no, it only serves to classify a person in a socially and culturally predetermined model, and characterize it with attributes that the questioner has set for the resulting number. The chronological age of a person provides little information and the attributes assigned to that individual are highly biased.
There is a piece of data, also numerical, but much more interesting than chronological age: subjective age. It provides more information and has a great weight in the physical and emotional well-being and, therefore, in the age of the cells that mark our biological aging.
What is subjective age
Subjective age is understood to be the years that a person feels they are. Determined by how we feel and what our emotional response is, it is related to the cognitive state, thoughts and behaviors associated with that way of feeling. Different studies indicate that this concept really gains weight after we turn 50.
A work carried out by the German researcher Markus Wettstein determines that “subjective age is becoming younger and remains more stable in middle age and older adults today.”
Because, interestingly, this effect is increasing over time: individuals with more recent birth dates tend to exhibit greater subjective age bias compared to older generations. That is, people feel younger today than ten or twenty years ago. And it is excellent news, as we will see.
Positive impact on health
The passage of time, inevitably, takes its toll on our cells. It is not possible to stop the process, but we know that certain determinants, such as the environment or lifestyle, can slow down the aging process.
In this line, different studies show that feeling younger than what the identity card indicates has a great positive impact on our body. Research from the University of North Carolina, led by Dr. Matthew Hughes, even concluded that subjective age is a good predictor of well-being and health.
As far as mental health is concerned, several studies suggest that it acts as a specific protective factor against affective disorders such as depression. A cross-sectional analysis with a sample of 1,608 adults carried out in the United States linked the perception of youth with a more positive evaluation of one’s own memory.
And as if that were not enough, a study carried out in South Korea in 2018 concluded that older people with a youthful spirit not only showed a greater volume of gray matter in the inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus, but also enjoyed a younger brain age. The findings reinforce the role of subjective age neurobiological mechanisms as an important marker of neurocognitive health at the end of life.
In short, scientific evidence links this feeling of youth with better physical and cognitive health, greater well-being, greater sexual health, greater resilience to stress and lower mortality risks. To maximize this positive effect, the mismatch between chronological and subjective age must be at least ten years, which we can understand for a generation.
I feel rejuvenated!
And what happens if, on the contrary, I feel older than I am? What can I do to change that feeling? Promoting a younger subjective age is feasible through interventions that can be learned and worked on:
Do not think of aging as a limitation to continue setting goals, but as a new stage in which to cultivate happiness, seek new challenges and take advantage of our experience and everything we have achieved in life.
Do not fear difficulties: we must face them and continue learning from them. This is what is meant by resilience. Experience provides knowledge so that the obstacles we face can be solved more easily. Or, at least, their understanding will bring us serenity and the ability to manage them.
Continue to be curious, want to learn and continue to meet people, promote social relationships, generate projects and enjoy them. At this point, and always with respect for oneself and for one’s partner or partners if they have one, sexuality acquires fundamental weight. It is necessary to be curious, experiment, not stagnate, open up and enjoy sex. Not in vain, it is a key indicator of health.
Escape as far as possible from loneliness and feel supported. Have strong and happy social ties.
Make our profession and/or occupation a rewarding activity. This point is essential and is directly related to subjective age: if we do not find meaning in our work or occupation, we will spend our lives waiting for retirement or for the activity to end. That is, we will be thinking about the future, we will wish to be older than we are. This thought will generate chronic stress, disappointment or even vulnerability, which will lead us to suffer premature aging.