As a doctor who’s actively involved in anti-aging medicine research and do-able anti-aging techniques for my patients, I’m always interested in helping my patients stay feeling, and living, as youthful as possible. Did you know that your mental perception of your age can make a big difference in how young, or old, you really feel and behave? Let me share with you some interesting findings by psychologists about your real age versus how old you feel.
Is Your Inner Age the Same as Your Outer Age?
I’ve noticed in my own patients that those who were relatively healthy, financially and socially stable and happy with their lives, often say they don’t feel their number age. Their chronological age may be 50+ but their inner age, their optimism about their life, may still be 25 or sometimes even younger. In other patients who may be experiencing some health issues, or uncertain financial or social issues, tend to either feel their number age, or older, like their age has become a burden.
It’s true that feeling youthful hinges on maintaining good physical and mental health. When your body and mind are healthy and serving you well you don’t think much about how many candles were on your birthday cake this year. Yet, I also have patients with certain chronic illnesses, or disabilities, who have maintained a positive outlook on their life and continue to set goals for themselves that they go on to achieve. That’s why it’s so important to take the best care of your physical – and mental – health as you possibly can at all ages.
Psychologists say there are 3 factors that determine your true age, or your functional age. Here they are:
1. Biological age. This is the age of your body and all its systems. This determination has to do with how well your body is working – lung capacity, heart capacity, kidneys, etc. Researchers say that predictable changes start to occur, about 1% after age 30-40. If you’re under the 1% range, you’re younger than your chronological age. To find these capacities out, you’d have to have specific tests to measure all systems. But, in general, if you exercise regularly, you can slow/cut the loss of biological function more than 50% so that by age 60, you’re actually only as biologically old as a 50 (or younger)-year-old. Resistance training can help you maintain bone density which also helps you from shrinking as you get older – another biomarker for age. See why I advocate regular exercise?
2. Psychological age. This basically involves cognitive functioning – how well you learn and how well your memory is working– and emotional functioning – your ability to handle your emotions and feelings. Staying psychologically younger then involves having better working memory. Playing brain games, doing memory training exercises, eating a brain-optimal diet full of Omega-3 fats, taking classes, learning new skills, all can help subtract years.
3. Social age. This is age markers of the “social clock” that says by certain ages you should have accomplished certain things in life – graduated from school, started working, gotten married, had kids, became a grandparent, retired. It’s all based on expected, societal “norm” milestones of life. Yet, the most happy and successful older people continue to achieve these social goals – like pursuing a first or second college degree, marrying, or becoming a parent again, or for the first time. The possibilities are only as limited as your thinking.
So, How Old Are You?
One factor, perhaps even more important than the sum of your functional ages, is whether you define your age or your age defines you. I’ve found that the most successful age-neutral people don’t let societal “norms” determine who they are or what they should be doing at their age. For example, in television ads, you’ll frequently see over-50 age people portraying the “negatives” associated with getting older – i.e., chronically needing pain medication, worried about finances, retirement, burial costs, needing assistance getting around, falling, sexual dysfunction and loneliness. Now, these can be real concerns for over-50 people. Yet, most often all these issues can be successfully addressed by professionals and not detract from your life.
The truth is television and movies tend to reflect an ageist stereotype that says, basically, life is all downhill after age 40. The Boomer-generation is not always depicted having fun, making contributions at work; excited about a new goal they’ve set for themselves, living their life successfully and happily or having satisfying sexual/love relationships. How you feel about your health depends on whether you buy into these social stereotypes and it can define how you feel about your age and how you conduct your own life. Seeing yourself as old, useless, no new horizons to cross, full of fear and uncertainty about your future, can open the door to depression which can also negatively impact your physical health.
But for those who reject ageist stereotypes see each birthday as another year to reach a goal. They’re people who, despite their functional age, continue to feel, and behave, more youthful than they are. They’re people whom others always guess to be much younger than their number age. They’re confident, they’re optimistic, they have a spring in their step, they always have a new goal they’re pursuing and they’re looking forward to seeing 90 and beyond. So, the big question you want to ask yourself is, which kind of older person are you?