You’re Only as Old as You Feel: Aging Cliches May Bear Some Truth

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We’ve all heard the saying that you’re only as old as you feel. Most likely, we dismiss such sentiments as nothing more than one of the myriad of aging cliches that exist in society.

But could it be true? Is it possible to truly feel differently than our actual age tells us to feel?

Research suggests that very well may be the case, according to the Washington Post.

One study revealed that as people get older, they consistently report feeling younger than their biological age. Meanwhile, another study associated positive attitudes about aging with a reduced risk of dementia. Yet another discovered purposeful attitudes among the children of centenarians.

Such findings are a strong contrast to negative stereotypes about aging prevalent in the media, at work and elsewhere.

“Children as young as 3 or 4 have already taken in the age stereotypes of their culture,” Becca Levy, professor of psychology at Yale University, told the Washington Post. Her study centered on positive attitudes lessening the risk of developing dementia, even among genetically disposed people.

“These age stereotypes are communicated to children through many sources, ranging from stories to social media,” Levy continued. “Individuals of all ages can benefit from bolstering their positive images of aging.”

And these positive images of aging may start from within, said William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. His study surveyed more than half a million Americans on the Internet and found that people felt younger than their true age.

“Sixty-year-olds felt like they were 46,” he said. Seventy-year-olds felt like they were 53. Eighty-year-olds felt like they were 65. It looks like this is pretty consistent across age groups. People know that they are aging, but they are evaluating themselves and their lives and reporting feeling about 20% younger than their current age.”

Continuing to combat ageism, then, remains an important public health campaign, Levy and Chopik agreed. The way we think about aging typically stems from anxiety over how we’ll look, how we’ll act and what we’ll do when we’re older. Yet there’s proof that you are, in fact, only as old as you feel.

“Many studies of older adults debunk these perceptions,” Chopik said. “Older adults live enriching and very active lives – so these perceptions aren’t rooted entirely in reality.”