Can you really be as young as you feel?

It was recently reported that a 69 year old Dutch pensioner who ‘identifies as 20 years younger’ wants the legal right to change his age to improve his dating chances on Tinder. Extraordinary as it may seem, when it comes to the question of his subjective age, he might be onto something, as a study suggests people who feel younger than their actual age may have brains that age more slowly.

While the aging process is a universal phenomenon, we know that our biological and chronological ages can diverge – with some 70 year olds having the physique of a 35 year old and some 40 year olds having the bone structure and bodies of a 60 year old. However, people also perceive and experience ageing considerably differently. Subjective age, referring to how individuals experience themselves as younger or older than their actual age, has been highlighted as an important predictor of late-life health outcomes. However, as it is unclear whether and how subjective age is associated with the neurobiological process of aging, the study set out to investigate. 68 healthy older adults underwent a subjective age survey and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The researchers used the results to explore whether three groups of subjective agers (i.e., feels younger, same, or older than actual age) differed in their regional grey matter volumes, and predicted brain age.

The results showed that elderly individuals who perceived themselves as younger than their real age showed larger grey matter volume and younger predicted brain age. The findings suggest that feeling subjectively older than one’s age may reflect relatively faster aging brain structures, whereas those who feel subjectively younger would have better-preserved and healthier structures and implies the neurobiological mechanisms of subjective ageing is an important marker of late-life neurocognitive health.

So, the old cliché, “you’re only as old as you feel,” might be right – or as Spice Girl Geri Halliwell was reported as suggesting to Nelson Mandela: “You’re as young as the girl you feel – and I’m 25.”

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