Contact: Angelina Sutin, Ph.D.
For Release: Immediately
Feeling older than your years? Pay attention to that feeling—because even if you’re just 35, your body actually may be moving on fast-forward at a pace that shortens life. But the quicker aging signal also implies you could make changes that may improve your health and add to your lifespan.
That’s the key message of a unique new study published in the September issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, journal of the American Psychosomatic Society. Feeling older than one’s true age was linked to a higher risk of death up to 20 years later in three U.S. samples of more than 17,000 adults who were 24 to 105 years old at the outset.
“But just because you feel old doesn’t mean you always have to feel old. Subjective age is a risk factor that can be modified,” says Angelina Sutin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine at the Florida State University College of Medicine. She authored the study with colleagues Stephan Yannick, Ph.D., and Antonio Terracciano, Ph.D.
They used information gathered about participants’ health, lifestyles and self-reported cognitive problems in the three large U.S. studies. All three studies also had asked participants what age they actually felt, and included basic demographic facts such as age, gender, race and education. The majority of people said they felt younger than their age. But 10 percent in two of the studies felt older, with only seven percent feeling older in one study limited to adults 65 and older.
Up to 20 years later, the researchers found death records for many participants. All across the adult lifespan, feeling an average of eight to 13 years older than one’s actual age was associated with a higher risk of death. This higher death rate could be accounted for by physical inactivity, diseases, depression, practical limitations in daily living (ability to bathe and dress alone, lift groceries, etc.) and cognitive issues.
These aspects, though, couldn’t completely explain the higher death rates for those in the oldest group (65 to 105 years old) who felt older than their years, says Sutin. Poor sleep, linked to feeling older in earlier studies, might be one path to shorter lives for these older adults, she says. Disrupted or short sleep promotes life-threatening inflammation and causes the body to take longer to recover from stresses. Also, feeling older than one’s age has been tied to a personality trait that prompts risky health behaviors, so that, too, could heighten risk for death.
At any age, feeling older than your years doesn’t have to be permanent, Sutin emphasizes. “Find something that makes you feel young again. Exercise more, take a class, do something artistic,” she suggests. “We have this entrenched idea that feeling old is inevitable. But when you find the thing that makes you feel young again, you discover it’s not so.” All earlier studies on subjective age and mortality have been small, and they mostly included European samples not representative of their population. This is by far the largest, most diverse and only study to include middle-aged and even younger adults, says Sutin. The “robust” findings imply that physicians should ask patients how old they feel and pay attention to their replies, she recommends. “Even beyond any diagnosis, this will tell something about the health of that person and their risk for death.”
Faculty Page: https://psychology.rice.edu/christopher-fagundes
The American Psychosomatic Society (APS) (http://www.psychosomatic.org),
founded in 1942, is an international multidisciplinary academic society that conducts an annual scientific meeting and educational programs. Psychosomatic Medicine is its scientific journal. The membership of over 700 is composed of academic scientists and clinicians in medicine, psychiatry, epidemiology, health psychology and allied health services. The mission of the APS is “to advance and integrate the scientific study of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease.”