You’re only as old as you feel, as the saying goes.
It turns out there may be some truth behind it: New research suggests people who feel younger than they are have fewer signs of aging in their brain compared to those who feel older.
Cognitive impairment as we age is unavoidable — our gray matter, responsible for most of the brain’s neurons, decreases, our memory becomes clouded and we might not be as quick-thinking as we once were.
But is subjective age just a feeling or attitude?
Dr. Jeanyung Chey of Seoul National University in South Korea sought to find the answer.
“Why do some people feel younger or older than their real age? Some possibilities include depressive states, personality differences or physical health,” she said.
“However, no one had investigated brain aging processes as a possible reason for differences in subjective age.”
Chey and her colleagues looked at the different brain features associated with aging to determine if there was a link between how old someone was and how old they felt. The research was published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
They looked at MRI scans of 68 healthy people between 59 and 84 years old to monitor how much gray matter they had.
Participants were also asked to complete a survey, which included questions about how old they felt and perceptions of their overall health.
The team found people who felt younger than their age were more likely to score higher in a memory test, considered their health to be better and were less likely to suffer symptoms of depression.
Crucially, those who felt younger had more gray matter in their brain, meaning their cognitive function was better.
“We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain,” said Chey.
“Importantly, this difference remains robust even when other possible factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for.”
One theory is that those who feel younger are more likely to lead healthy, more physically active lives — contributing to their better overall health.
“If somebody feels older than their age, it could be a sign for them to evaluate their lifestyle, habits and activities that could contribute to brain aging and take measures to better care for their brain health,” said Chey.
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