Feeling Young Can Reduce the Aging Effects of Stress, Research Suggests

People who feel younger have a greater sense of well-being, less inflammation, and better cognitive function. (Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock)
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By Sarah Cownley

New research shows how feeling young can protect people from the physiological ravages of stress. People who feel younger have a greater sense of well-being, less inflammation, and better cognitive function, according to research. They also have a lower risk of hospitalization.

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, feeling younger may help adults handle stress as they age. Researchers analyzed three years of data from 5,039 participants in the German Ageing Survey who were aged 40 and older.

The survey included questions about the stress in people’s lives and their functional health. This included how much they were limited in daily activities such as walking, bathing, and dressing.

Participants were also asked, “How old do you feel?”

There are a few ways researchers and others look at age. There is chronological age, which is the age we refer to when asked how old we are. And then there is biological age, which is how old our body is in terms of its overall condition. And then there is subjective age, which is how old we feel.

It was found that, on average, participants who recorded more stress in their lives had a steeper decline in functional health over three years. The link between stress and health decline was also found to be stronger for chronologically older participants.

Since there is a relatively large volume of research that links the biochemical effects of stress to an overall acceleration of biological age, this part of the study is fairly well established. The interesting part of the study showed that participants who “felt” younger seemed to have a protective buffer. Among those who felt younger than their chronological age, the link between stress and health decline was weaker. This protective effect was strongest among the oldest participants.

“Generally, we know that functional health declines with advancing age, but we also know that these age-related functional health trajectories are remarkably varied. As a result, some individuals enter old age and very old age with quite good and intact health resources, whereas others experience a pronounced decline in functional health, which might even result in need for long-term care,” said study lead author Markus Wettstein.

“Our findings support the role of stress as a risk factor for functional health decline, particularly among older individuals, as well as the health-supporting and stress-buffering role of a younger subjective age.”

In other words, those with a younger subjective age seemed better protected against the toll stress normally inflicts on biological aging.

Health Interventions

The results of this study suggest that interventions aimed at helping people feel younger could reduce stress and improve health, including lowering the risk of cognitive decline in older adults. Further studies are needed to help determine what kind of interventions would work best, but health care providers are encouraged to help promote positive views on aging.

These types of interventions, combined with stress management training, could improve both physical and mental health, and reduce the risk of illness and disease. So, if you are middle-aged or older, don’t dwell on your age. Focus on the age you feel, and start doing activities that can help you feel younger!

Sarah Cownley earned a diploma in nutritional therapy from Health Sciences Academy in London, and she enjoys helping others by teaching healthy lifestyle changes through her personal consultations and with her regular contributions to the Doctors Health Press. This article was originally published on Bel Marra Health.

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