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The rumours are true - age really is just a state of mind

They say “age is just a number” and “you’re as young as you feel” but is this really true? Do you ever feel your age? Research suggests that our state of mind directly impacts our mental and physical wellbeing. If you believe you’ll decline in health as you get older, you will. Conversely, if you don’t let the common stereotypes of ageing hold you back, you’ll continue to feel healthy well into your golden years. We dive into the science that proves age is just a state of mind and also how new experiences and challenges can help keep you young in both mind and body.

What does the science say?

Old age is a state of mind – according to research which found that people who reject ageing thoughts and instead have a more youthful outlook are more healthy and live longer. The renowned Atchley’s Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement, which surveyed more than 1,100 people over the age of 50, found that “people with more positive views of their own ageing lived, on average, 7.6 years longer than people with more negative views” and that “this significant survival advantage remained after controlling for other relevant factors”. 

A 2006 follow-up study by Yale University psychologist Becca Levy found that “seniors who held negative self-stereotypes about ageing tended to lose more of their hearing over the course of three years than seniors with more positive views of ageing”. 

Another study in the 1980s found a similar phenomenon when conducting an experiment with a group of elderly men. They took the men to an environment similar to their youth and asked them to attempt to be the person they were 20 years earlier. They also spoke about events and objects from their past as if they were in the present. The results found that, in comparison to the control group who didn’t participate in the recreation, the men who changed their mindset achieved improved posture, dexterity and physical appearance. Even their vision improved. The study was repeated decades later with similar results. 

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senior couple at their wedding

Chronological vs cognitive age

So how is this possible? Science says we all have a chronological age and a cognitive age. While your chronological age is the number of years you’ve been alive, your cognitive age is the age you feel – or your state of mind. It’s a great predictor of attitudes, behaviours and beliefs. One study in 2009 found that seniors who have a younger cognitive age have better health, higher life satisfaction, higher level of activities, and more positive attitudes toward ageing than those who have an older cognitive age – regardless of their chronological ages. 

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senior couple travelling in Scandinavia

Younger brains

A more recent study in South Korea in 2015 made an even more incredible discovery. Researchers found that people who feel younger actually have the structural characteristics of a younger brain. The study participants, who had an average age of 71, underwent brain scans and psychosocial surveys. The brain scans showed that seniors who said they felt younger than their chronological age had more grey matter in the parts of the brain that usually shrink as you age and your health declines.

Furthermore, the people who felt younger scored higher on memory tests, were less likely to report depressive symptoms and considered their health to be better. While these findings do not completely prove that simpling feeling young means your brain is physically younger, this research is consistent with a growing body of research suggesting that brain health plays a big role in how we feel, including whether we feel our actual age. 

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two women riding bikes

What you think, you become

Another 2013 study from the University of Exeter Medical School says age is a state of mind. The findings showed that seniors who perceive themselves as frail tend to stop doing activities such as exercise, which in turn increases their likelihood of frailty. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy, with one participant summing it by saying, “If people think that they are old and frail, they will act like they’re old and frail.” 

Essentially – your body believes what your mind tells you. So what can you do to help you feel younger and stay healthy and active? 

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How to get into the right state of mind

While genetics and physical habits have a great impact on ageing and wellbeing in our older years, the research makes it clear that developing the right mindset is crucial to a long, healthy and happy life. But how do you get into the right mindset and stay active and sharp?

To ensure that age really becomes just a number, people should start to value the positive aspects of ageing. From deeper wisdom and emotional maturity, to having more freedom and time for family, hobbies and travel, there is a lot to love about your golden years. So start by kicking those ageing thoughts and stereotypes and adopt a positive approach to ageing. 

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senior man painting

How travel can keep you young

Studies have found that maintaining a sense of purpose is crucial to maintaining health and wellbeing in our older years. You could volunteer in your community or join a class to develop new skills. The important thing is to keep active and feel you have a purpose and meaning in life. 

Travel is another great way to keep you young, both in mind and body. Whether you start exploring a new region or take a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trip, travel is all about new experiences, new skills, and conquering new challenges. There’s a whole wide world out there waiting to be enjoyed – so why not make the most of your golden years and get out there? Not only will you have the time of your life, but you’ll likely also feel healthier and younger as a result – proving that age really is just a state of mind. 

Do you think age is just a state of mind? Does travel help keep you young and active? Let us know in the comments below!

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