Folks who feel “young at heart” may be more likely to live to a ripe old age, a new British study suggests.
Seniors who said they felt three or more years younger than their actual age experienced a lower death rate over the course of eight years than people who either felt their full age or a little older, researchers report online Dec. 15 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
About 25 percent of people who felt older than their actual age died, compared with about 14 percent of people who felt younger than their true age and almost 19 percent who felt their age.
The effect held even after researchers accounted for things that might make a person feel older than they are, such as chronic health problems, difficulty with mobility or mental health issues like depression, said senior study author Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College London.
People who felt older still had a 41 percent greater risk of death than those who felt younger, even after researchers controlled for those factors. However, the study did not prove definitively that feeling younger lengthened a persons life span.
“None of these fully explained the relationship we saw, so we don’t understand all the mechanisms involved,” Steptoe said.
The researchers based their findings on data gathered during a long-term study on aging in Britain. As part of the study, all participants were asked, “How old do you feel you are?”
More than two-thirds of participants felt three or more years younger than their actual age, while about a quarter felt their age. About 5 percent felt more than a year older than their true age.
The average actual age of all participants was about 66, but their average self-perceived age was 57.
The findings show how powerful optimism can be when it comes to a person’s overall health, said James Maddux, professor emeritus of psychology and senior scholar at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va.