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If You’reOnly as Old as You Feel?

We’ve all been asked a question like “How are you feeling?”  And we probably didn’t take but a moment before giving some pat answer like “fine,” or “good” or if we’re being honest “lousy.”  I suspect none of us would regularly answer the question with “I feel young.”  I attended a seminar a number of years ago where the speaker, a retired professor from University of Illinois, began his presentation with the statement, “Everybody has to grow older, but you don’t have to grow up!”  As it turns out, there is science to back that up.

Researchers have demonstrated that older adults who report that they “feel younger” actually are healthier, and they live longer as well.  These same researchers also report that older individuals who say they “feel younger” also tend to be healthier.  You could challenge this as a chicken and egg argument that the health status drives the younger feelings, not the other way around, but the researchers find that there are other activities that actually result in the youthful feelings and subsequently health.

In research recently reported in the journal Psychology and Aging, scientists from the German Centre of Gerontology shared data from a three-year study of more than 5,000 adults 40 years of age and older.  They were able to show that people who “felt younger” did not have any less stress than other individuals, but that the stress had measurably less impact on their “overall feelings of health” and their reported mental health and wellness.  That “younger feeling” appears to intervene between what life throws at a person and their functional health.  And then it gets really interesting, because the effect on mitigating stress is even stronger among the older individuals in the study.

So, how does one get to that “feeling younger” place?  The researchers offer some concrete recommendations based on the reports of those individuals they studied:

  1. Meditate – shut the door on the stressors of life for a fixed amount of time each day; take a time out.  This is a link to an auditory meditation site that can help get you to that “place.”
  2. Laugh – this is underrated.  But it can also become a virtuous cycle if you find someone who can help you laugh at a joke or a moment in their life and you then pass it on.
  3. Study – maybe it’s learning a language or learning to paint watercolors.  My spouse has taken up astronomy to become more conversant in who are celestial neighbors are.
  4. Explore –  for some people it’s travel that gives them the adventure that stimulates them.  Or maybe this overlaps with my husband’s astronomy or perhaps your would like to take a course in plant taxonomy to explore your natural environment.

At the base of all of this “feeling younger” is being socially connected.  Reach beyond the friends you already have to the friends who you have yet to meet, and that “young feeling” will come along with the friendship.

Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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