Feeling Younger May Actually Mean You Have a Healthier Brain

A new study has shown links between brain health and subjective age. People who feel younger than their real age display signs of better brain health.

The age-old saying, 'you are only as old as you feel' might actually be true. A new study from a group of scientists has discovered that feeling younger than your real age might have some real health benefits! 

Science

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Subjective age (SA), refers to the age individuals feel that is younger or older than their actual age. Previous studies had shown that subjective age can be an important predictor of late-life health outcomes. 

However, the links between a person's subjective age and their neurobiological process of aging hadn’t been made clear. "Why do some people feel younger or older than their real age?" asks Dr. Jean Young Chevy from Seoul University. "Some possibilities include depressive states, personality differences or physical health. However, no one had investigated brain aging processes as a possible reason for differences in subjective age." 

In this new study, sixty-eight healthy older adults underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to measure the volume of gray matter in various brain regions. They also underwent a subjective age survey to determine how old they felt. 

Open-access datasets were used to build a model for age prediction. “We utilized both voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and age-prediction modeling techniques to explore whether the three groups of SA (i.e., feels younger, same, or older than actual age) differed in their regional gray matter (GM) volumes, and predicted brain age,” said the paper's authors. 

Subjects who felt younger displayed better brain health

The results showed that people who said they felt younger than their age showed not only a larger GM volume in the inferior frontal gyrus and the superior temporal gyrus, but also a younger predicted brain age.

"We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain"

The scientists concluded that their research suggests the ‘subjective experience of aging is closely related to the process of brain aging and underscores the neurobiological mechanisms of SA as an important marker of late-life neurocognitive health.’ 

"We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain," said Chey. "Importantly, this difference remains robust even when other possible factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for." 

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Scientists urge don't try and act your age

The study is the first to find a link between subjective age and brain aging. While it still isn’t exactly clear how subjective aging works, the team of scientists can hypothesize that people who feel younger may be more likely to lead an active life or engage in challenging activities that cause improvements in their brain health. 

Inversely, those that feel older may limit themselves and in fact be causing their brains to age faster. "If somebody feels older than their age, it could be a sign for them to evaluate their lifestyle, habits and activities that could contribute to brain aging and take measures to better care for their brain health," said Chey.

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