"I think people should have more photos of themselves as children around. There's no way you can hate that version of yourself." -- Warsan Shire

Saturday, April 15, 2023

How Old Do You Feel?

      Research has shown that subjective age -- how old we feel -- and not our actual age is a better predictor of our overall health, memory, physical strength and longevity. So instead of asking someone how old they are, you should ask: How old do you feel?

     Cues about age can influence how old we feel. So one way to feel younger is to socialize with people who are younger. An older person married to a younger person may have a younger subjective age -- they feel younger, act younger. Spouses who are significantly younger actually tend to live shorter lives, older spouses live longer lives.

     Women who have children later in life are often surrounded by younger age-related cues in the form of younger mothers. The relatively older mothers have a longer life expectancy than women who bear children earlier in life.

     Women feel younger after having their hair colored and show a healthy decrease in blood pressure. Bald men see an older self in the mirror which may speed up the aging process. There is some evidence that bald men have higher risk of prostate cancer and coronary heart disease. So cosmetic changes -- coloring our hair, wearing a toupee -- could actually have some health-related benefits.

     As a corollary, when asked what age they would like to be, most people say 10 years younger than they actually are, according to a study from the Stanford Center on Longevity. So 70-year-olds say they want to be 60, and 60-year-olds say they'd like to be 50. Nobody says they want to be 20 again -- maybe because they remember they had a lot of uncertainty about their lives at age 20, and they don't want to relive all that anxiety again.

     What age would you like to be . . . you know, if you had a magic genie to grant you a wish? Me? I'd want to be 50 again. Which is 20 years younger than my actual age . . . but 10 years younger than how I feel.

     How do I know all this? I picked up a book called Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging by Alan Castel. He offers plenty of good advice and interesting insights, some familiar, some new, at least to me.

     Castel refers to an old study from the 1980s that concluded there are three main factors to successful aging. 1) Being free of disability or disease; 2) having high cognitive and physical abilities; and 3) interacting with others in meaningful ways.

     He doesn't argue with this definition. But another definition of successful aging may involve the simple fact of reaching old age . . . because a lot of people, sometimes very successful people, don't get there, due to bad habits, bad luck, bad genes. So I guess those of us who have made it to 70 can congratulate ourselves. By one measure anyway, we are successful agers!

     Research has found that older adults do lose their ability to remember things. We cannot remember random numbers as easily as younger people. However, older adults are better at focusing on crucial information, and we do better remembering the important things. He quotes Cicero who said, "I've never heard of an old man who forgot where he buried his treasure."

     Castel does not believe in eating any specific foods to improve our health. Chocolate, blueberries, red wine, have all been promoted as miracle foods. The problem is, in order to gain any benefits, you'd have to eat or drink so much that the negative effects would far outweigh any benefits. He just recommends a standard healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, not too much fat or sugar or salt.

     Physical exercise is also an important factor in staying healthy and living a long life . . . and to ward off dementia. But you don't have to do anything extraordinary. Castel says walking is the perfect exercise for older people. 

     In terms of keeping our minds sharp, it's not so much what we do as learning something new. If you've been doing crossword puzzles all your life, doing more crossword puzzles will not improve your mental facility. The secret is to learn something new -- how to paint, how to play the piano, how to speak a foreign language. On the other hand, if you already play the piano, but don't do crossword puzzles, then starting to do crossword puzzles could be helpful.

     The exception is reading. Reading keeps our minds sharp, regardless of how much we've been reading before. And curiously, even though reading is a solitary activity, somehow it also improves our social skills. And we all know that having an active social life helps us stay healthy and alert. So maybe joining a book club is the answer.


Terra said...

This is very intriguing to me as a senior citizen. The last paragraph about the benefits of reading is cheering to me, as I love reading an eclectic array of books, I am a retired librarian and an author. I am in a women's Bible study at my church and we have homework, so that is a new activity and combines reading and meeting with the ten ladies.

gigi-hawaii said...

I think enjoyment of life is key. Tomorrow, I am seeing "La Cage aux Folles" at Diamond Head Theatre. On Tuesday, My daughter will be vacationing with us for a week. We shall treat her to lunch at a Thai restaurant on Thursday. On April 23, we are hosting a family potluck lunch. And on April 30, we will attend Puccini's opera, "Gianni Schicchi," at the Blaisdell. What's not to enjoy? What a great life! Yes, we are forever young.

Ed said...

I grew up without a television and so reading wasn't so much an option but a necessity. But I regularly receive comments about how I seem to know so much about everything and I tell them, it is because I read that it appears that way. The only person I know who probably knows more about any subject than me is my father who has been reading non-fiction like me for much longer.

I hope you are right that it is a key to a healthy life. I do walk though I've never been an exercise nut. I have a "million" hobbies, all of which I am continually learning new things. I try to eat a variety of things and avoid fad diets. Probably the best thing I have is a grandmother who is in her 90's and having met over half of my great grandparents personally, many of them who lived to their 90's. But that was tempered greatly five years ago when I lost my mom to brain cancer. We can do everything right and still get dealt a bad hand of cards.

Anvilcloud said...

I don’t usually feel old at 75, but my body can certainly disagree with me. Lots of ages were good. Thirties with kids was pretty good. So was 60s with grand kids — younger grand kids.

Red said...

All very interesting but there's no mention of computer stuff. I'm 83 and I would like to be 78. 78 was probably a very good time in my life.

Linda Myers said...

I feel 65 - ten years younger than I will be in September this year. But my body feels my actual age; I'm hoping a new knee this summer will take those ten years off. I'm learning Spanish and I take online classes through our Olli program. And I read a lot.

River said...

How old do I feel? I never even think about it unless I am achy and tired, like last week after my shingles vaccination I was achy about the third day after, for a couple of days. M
ostly I just get on with life although I do less than I used to and nap more. But I don't feel old most of the time.

"Older mothers have a longer life expectancy than women who bear children earlier in life." I had all my children between the ages of 20 and 28, and here I am at 70, with six grandchildren and one great grandson, looking forward to being old.

Rian said...

Tom, I’m not sure how to answer this. How old do I feel? I will be 78 in July… that’s old, but inside I don’t feel any different than when younger. I’m aware that I can’t push myself too hard anymore and I do enjoy an afternoon nap on occasion. Know that at 78, anything can happen… am very grateful that DH and I still have each other and for the privilege of knowing our kids and grandkids - something my siblings missed. And God knows, I LOVE to read!

Tom said...

Yeah, I guess a lot of us don't even notice our age, until our body reminds us. For me it's the creaky knees when I walk downstairs. I shoulda got a one-story house with no stairs! (But my wife reminds me that doing stairs is good for me.)

DJan said...

I am grateful for having been able to reach eighty, when neither of my parents even made it into their seventies. I am happy to be as fit as I am right now and don't feel the need to be any younger. Good thoughtful post! :-)

Anonymous said...

Women may feel better if they color their hair but there's some evidence that some hair dyes are linked to a higher rate of breast cancer, and depending on the dye color, basal cell carcinonma. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/toxic-beauty

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Wisewebwoman said...

I do believe so much is in embracing old age. And not trying to hide it or be ashamed of it. Hair dye can have a poor effect on the body. Recent studies of L'Oreal products are frightening. (Ovarian cancer).
My four brothers monitor each other's baldness on our weekly sibling zoom calls. Odd that. It seems to be such a thing with men. So many reluctant to just shave their heads and get on with life rather than ridiculous comb overs and hair spray, etc.
I am a firm believer in reading and games and some kinds of challenging designs (I design knitting patterns). And hanging around younger people.

Kay said...

I was going to choose 50 also. Then again some days... with the aches and pains, I can't help but feel my age.

Lewis Edwards said...

In my opinion, if we want to retire early, we should be thankful with the life you have at this very moment. Thankful to have supportive families and buddies, thankful to have a stable job, and thankful you can afford what you want. I really enjoying my life after retirement. You can read blogs of The Rookie Retiree.