Feeling younger than one’s real age could help to preserve memory and cognitive function as people get older, says a study in the November issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
The study comes as recent research suggests aging is both a subjective and biological experience. A younger self-image was more common in physically active people with a lower body-mass index, the latest study found.
The study, conducted by researchers in France, analyzed data from 1,352 men and women, age 50 to 75 years old, who were enrolled in a larger U.S. study in the mid-1990s. Participants were asked how old they felt most of the time and how often they participated in moderate or vigorous exercise. Other information, such as the presence of chronic diseases, was recorded.
After about 10 years, cognitive function was assessed with tests of memory and executive function, the capacity to plan and carry out complex tasks. The study found that, on average, the participants felt 19% younger than their chronological age. Of the subjects, 89% felt younger and 11% felt older than their actual age. Those who felt older than their age scored 25% lower on memory and cognitive tests than those who felt younger.
The association between a younger subjective age and better memory and executive functioning was independent of gender, educational achievement, marital status and chronic diseases, the adjusted results showed. People who feel older than their age might require closer monitoring, as this may be an early marker of impaired cognition leading to dementia, the researchers said.
Caveat: The subjects’ social networks, history of depression, medication use and cognitive-related leisure activities weren’t considered.