September 17, 2019

You’re probably familiar with the popular saying, “you’re only as old as you feel.” As it turns out, the old adage has more merit than initially thought.

Several studies have found that being “young at heart” is not just a feeling, but a mindset that can lead to positive outcomes for our health and wellbeing. When our self-perceived age is younger than our actual age—even by just a few years—it may help us live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Here’s are some of the ways feeling young at heart can lead to healthier aging:

Better brain health

In one study, researchers performed MRI scans on the brains of 68 adults between the ages of 59 and 84 and gave them a test assessing their overall health and cognitive abilities. The researchers then surveyed the participants, asking whether they felt older or younger than their actual age.

The study revealed that the participants who felt younger than their age had a greater amount of gray matter in their brains and scored higher on memory tests than those who felt older than their age. These findings suggest that feeling young could preserve brain health as we get older and protect against the risk of cognitive decline.

Increased life expectancy

In another study, researchers at the University College London asked 6,500 men and women ages 52 and older the question, “How old do you feel you are?” About 70% of the respondents felt three or more years younger than their actual age, while 25% felt close to their actual age, and 5% felt more than one year older than their true age.

Eight years later, the researchers followed up with the participants and found that the older adults who felt three or more years younger than their actual age had a significantly lower mortality rate compared to the groups who felt close to their age or one year older than their actual age. Even when the researchers adjusted their findings for factors such as physical activity, history of illness, and socioeconomic status, the “young at heart” group had an overall lower risk of mortality.

Researchers speculate that feeling younger psychologically inspires older adults to have a more positive outlook on life and adopt better health and lifestyle habits as a result. Older adults who feel younger than their age also have more resilience, which allows them to “bounce back” after an illness or injury more quickly than those who feel older than their age.

Greater mental and emotional wellbeing

Having a younger state of mind may also lead to mental and emotional health benefits. A study found that older adults who felt younger than their actual age were less likely to experience senior health concerns such as depression and loneliness. One explanation for this finding is that older adults who feel younger than their age tend to have more active social lives, which helps them combat loneliness and isolation.

3 ways to be more young at heart:

Try new things

When was the last time you tried something for the first time? When we engage in new hobbies, activities, and learning opportunities, we’re actually challenging our brains to create new neural connections. This can help to preserve our cognitive skills as we get older. So, don’t be afraid to branch out and learn something new—your brain will thank you!

Stay social

Surrounding yourself with friends is another secret to remaining young at heart. There’s a reason people say that laughter is the best medicine! Interacting with friends usually leads to happiness and laughter, which can be invaluable for our mental and physical health. Whether you’re reconnecting with old friends or meeting new people, make time for fun activities that encourage social connection.

Volunteer

After leaving the working world, many retirees like to participate in volunteer activities. There are so many meaningful ways to give back as a volunteer, from sorting donated items to organizing fundraisers to tutoring the next generation and much more. Lending a helping hand is a great way to become involved in your community and stay young at heart.

Growing older doesn’t mean you have to feel—or act—your age! At Bethany Village, we encourage you to Enjoy Life in your retirement years. It’s never too late to try new things, make new friends, and be young at heart. After all, age is just a number!