We all know people who say they feel younger than their chronological age. This “subjective” age may sometimes be accompanied by a physical appearance that is more youthful than a person’s chronological age, and is frequently linked with behaviors and activities in which factors like mobility, for instance, are most often reserved for people in a much younger age group. In short, people who say they feel younger than they are chronologically sometimes look and frequently act the part of a more youthful individual.
What is going on with people who seem to enjoy a more youthful existence than their birthday would dictate? Scientists may have just discovered an important piece of the puzzle. It turns out that people who report they feel younger than they are chronologically actually tend to have younger brains!
Testing Subjective Age vs. Brain Aging
Researchers set out to investigate the link between subjective age and brain aging. Using MRI data to calculate estimated brain ages for study participants, scientists found that people who felt younger than their age were more likely to score higher on a memory test, considered their health to be better and were less likely to report depressive symptoms. Critically, those who felt younger than their age showed increased gray matter volume in key brain regions. Wow.
“We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain. [More] importantly, this difference remains robust even when other possible factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for.” –Dr. Jeanyung Chey, Seoul National University in Korea
So what came first? The chicken or the egg?
One possibility is that those people whose brains are aging, actually ‘feel older’, or feel the same as their chronological age…”The researchers hypothesize that those who feel older may be able to sense the aging process in their brain, as their loss of gray matter may make cognitive tasks more challenging.”
But, maybe humans actually have some control over their brain aging. Diet, lifestyle, being outdoors with nature, fresh air and sunshine, taking care of pets, having a full social support network or a strong, healthy relationship with a significant other, doing regular memory and problem-solving exercises, reading (!), having fulfilling hobbies, and so on just may slow brain aging–and one’s subjective age…”One intriguing possibility is that those who feel younger are more likely to lead a more physically and mentally active life, which could cause improvements in brain health. However, for those who feel older, the opposite could be true.”
Either way…take care of your brain health
“If somebody feels older than their age, it could be 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.” –Dr. Jeanyung Chey
Scientific study: Seyul Kwak, Hairin Kim, Jeanyung Chey, Yoosik Youm. Feeling How Old I Am: Subjective Age Is Associated With Estimated Brain Age. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2018; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2018.00168