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Don't Act Your Age
Why feeling younger may improve your health and help you live longer.
Of all the hard things in my dad’s battle with cancer, I think the hardest was coming to terms with the rapid aging that came along with his treatment. Almost overnight it seemed, Dad went from a healthy, fit, active man to one who could barely walk without assistance. It wasn’t easy to watch, and it was even less easy for him to endure.
I must confess I have inherited my father’s aversion to aging. It’s hard for me to accept limitations, and I hardly ever act my age. As it turns out, that might be a good thing.
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal piqued my attention. It explores studies that have shown links between how old people feel—their “subjective age”—and their physical health. These studies found “feeling older than your chronological age is associated with a higher likelihood of dementia, frailty, stroke and heart disease.”
Conversely, feeling younger than your age and/or having a more positive attitude about aging has been linked to longer life, according to the article.
In one German study of 2,400 adults over more than 20 years, participants who said they expected to continue to grow and develop into old age lived on average 13 years longer than those who didn’t expect such growth. — WSJ
Of course, no one is immune to potential disease. One of the most frustrating things about watching my parents battle cancer was the fact that they had largely taken care of themselves throughout their lives—they didn’t smoke or drink alcohol and tried to eat well, and my dad was a lifelong fitness buff. Nonetheless, we can control how we think about aging, and it just might help us add a little time to the proverbial clock.
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So how can we feel younger? Here are a few practical tips:
Exercise. According to an article on Health.com, exercise can make you look and feel younger. In addition to the more obvious ways, such as helping to maintaining muscle tone and manage your weight, exercise may actually lengthen your telomeres (the caps at the end of your chromosomes), and longer telomeres are associated with longer life.
Change your mind. Dr. Becca Levy, who studies how beliefs about aging impact health and longevity, suggests that by becoming aware of your beliefs about aging, you can begin to change them. Levy has written a book called Breaking the Age code and has a quiz on her website where you can see how your beliefs about aging stack up against others. I’ve personally found that in many areas of life, once you identify limiting beliefs and challenge them, you are well on your way to overcoming them.
Try something new. Staying open to new experiences is one of the keys to feeling younger. Taking risks can be more challenging for older people, says Dr. Laura Carstensen in an article on Prevention.com. But she suggests that it is well worth the effort and can be reinforced when trying something new with friends. This is an idea Alex and I explored in a recent Practically Fit podcast episode.
While I don’t love aging, I try to keep a positive attitude about it and not let it limit my willingness to live life to the fullest. If you’ve found ways to feel younger, I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.