You are what you believe you are

You are what you believe you are

May 23, 2021 0 By Rick

Those of you who have attended my lectures, read my book, listened to podcasts where I’ve been a guest and followed my blog will recognize the title of this post. It’s something I talk and write about every opportunity I get. So, I probably know what you’re thinking now. Here comes Rick sailing on the “Good Ship Lollypop” to pontificate about the benefits of positive thinking and having a growth mindset. And you’re right – to a certain degree. What’s different this time is that research is proving me right. A new study from the German Center of Gerontology has found that the old saying, “you’re only as old as you feel,” may actually be true. Their findings report that when you “feel” younger, you slow down the effects of aging.

Benefits of a youthful outlook
Older people who say that they feel younger than their chronological age show “fewer signs of stress-related aging than their peers,” according to the researchers, who are calling this a superpower for fighting stress and aging slowly. If you have a youthful outlook, you’ll possess better cognitive skills, have less inflammation, make fewer visits to the hospital and – best of all because this is what I’ve been saying for decades – you’re likely to live longer than people who “feel old.” Researchers say this supports the theory that your subjective age provides “tangible benefits for your health and protects against stress.” Lead author Dr. Markus Wettstein from Heidelberg University says, “Generally, we know that functional health declines with advancing age, but we also know that these age-related functional health trajectories are remarkably varied. As a result, some individuals enter old age and very old age with quite good and intact health resources, whereas others experience a pronounced decline in functional health, which might even result in the need for long-term care.” 

Aging and stress
Researchers at the German Center of Gerontology looked at three years of data on more than 5,000 participants, all over 40, in the German Aging Survey. They asked each person to provide their perceived levels of stress and functional health and if their health limits daily activities such as walking, dressing, bathing and other daily activities. They were also asked, “how old do you feel?” The findings revealed that stress appeared to be a significant factor in how fast a person’s health declined and that stress impacted older participants even more. On the other hand, adults who told researchers they felt younger than their actual age experienced more protective benefits from stress than others. The study appears in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Younger brains
An online study published in 2018 suggested that the brains of people who said they feel younger than their actual age may age more slowly. Scientists examined brain scans of healthy adults between 59 and 84 to measure the volume of the brain in different regions. Researchers found that the participants who said they felt younger than their real age performed better on memory tests, rated themselves as healthier and were less likely to be depressed. They also had more gray matter in some areas of the brain, which is typical of younger brains. Although more research needs to be conducted to explain this association, the researchers believe that “people who see themselves as younger are more likely to follow an active lifestyle compared with those who feel older, and that may influence gray-matter volume.” How you think about yourself is essential.

Age is just a number
Having the right mindset can help you feel and look younger. More and more studies show that the way you think of yourself has a strong positive impact on your health. One scientist goes so far as to say that “how old you feel may actually predict how long you’ll live, how happy you are, and your general state of health for the next two decades.” According to Jennifer Bellingtier, Ph.D., a postdoctoral psychology researcher at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany, “That mental state is known as subjective age, and it reflects your perception of how well you’re growing older. If you think you’re aging poorly, you may be less motivated to exercise, eat well, or engage in other healthy behaviors.” Studies show that subjective age is incredibly powerful and that people who feel younger not only have brains that age more slowly, but they also have better metabolic, muscular and pulmonary functions compared with people who feel older.

How can we “feel” younger?
The good news is that we can easily control what we believe about ourselves. If we’re going to make this change, there’re a few things we can start doing immediately. One is to “always look on the bright side of life,” as Eric Idle of Monty Python fame sang in “The Life of Brian.” He was on to something there. Strive to find the upside of things. Granted, this isn’t always easy for perfectionists, who tend to set the bar too high and beat themselves up for not achieving a goal. Don’t be hypercritical of yourself. Another thing you can do is stop sweating the small stuff. Stressing out over minor disagreements, traffic jams or stuff that’s out of your control can make you feel older, according to research. Other ways to feel younger than your real age include traveling, learning new things, exercising, making new friends and varying your routines. Remember, there’s no age where you have to quit doing interesting and exciting stuff! Try these out, and you’re bound to see positive effects on your subjective age. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose but years from your subjective age!