Your Subjective Age Is More Important Than Your Actual Age, Study Finds

Physical and mental health is a factor of subjective age (the age you feel). As one age naturally, the subjective age is seen to adopt its own timescale which most of the times does not really coincide with the actual age. Some people feel older and some younger than their real age.

These days subjective age calculators over the internet are increasingly becoming popular. These programs try to predict your age considering a number of factors such as body fat, active tissue mass, gender, habits, etc.

Is it important…?

Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese ~ Luis Bunuel

Well, we have seen those politicians who never ever seem to get old or who never opt for retirement. The recent election of Tun Dr. Mahatir Bin Mohamad as the Malaysian Prime Minister is a perfect example which can be quoted here. Tun Dr. Mahatir having taken office at the age of 92 years old is currently the oldest serving Prime Minister of the world. And, he appears to be very active, smart and flourishing even at this age. What could be the reason for this? Why is he different from others?

Politicians and business tycoons are generally known to have a very different lifestyle from the usual population. Is it because of their work commitment and habit of fighting keeps them moving forward? One may easily predict a very lower subjective age for them. Obviously, they age naturally but they may not bother about that much and may have a completely different mindset of their age. Maybe, for them, the actual age is just a number. So, what counts over here is the age they feel or in other terms, the subjective age; and their actions are purely based on the age they feel.

A recent study on subjective age and brain age as published in “Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience” journal investigated 68 individuals by conducting magnetic resonance imaging scanning and subjective age survey. The research used brain images to construct a model for age prediction. By taking into consideration prediction modeling techniques and “Voxel-Based Morphometry” the researchers explored that whether different classes of subjective age (younger, same or older against actual age) differed in the grey matter volumes.

Interestingly, researchers found out that older adults with lower subjective age had larger grey matter volumes in the inferior frontal gyrus and the superior temporal gyrus, and had a younger predicted brain age. The study concluded that subjective age is an essential factor of late-life neurocognitive health. The study also showed that feeling younger leads to a better preserved and a healthier brain structure.

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Anyway, it is important to understand that why some people as they age appear to shine and some diminish. Several studies have acknowledged and well established the fact by now that subjective age has an impact on the health and overall well-being of an individual. Individuals with lower subjective age also show a greater ability to fight depression. Researchers are increasingly becoming interested in this notable quality and trying to investigate the factors associated with it.

An article from “The Journal of Sex Research” suggested that subjective age and stereotypic views of aging may shape sexual experience in the later life of an individual. Another study outlines that a higher subjective age is a sign of individuals’ risk of subsequent cognitive impairment and dementia. In the study, adults of age 65 years and above were considered and measures of subjective age, cognition and covariates were done.

Brian Nosek a Professor of Psychology from the Research Faculty at the University of Virginia emphasized that the magnitude to which older individuals feel younger than their actual age may determine their decision choices for their next steps.

And, according to an article published in “The International Journal of Aging and Human Development” it is emphasized that the subjective age plays a crucial role which should be taken into account while trying to make successful allocations of positions and responsibilities. Although, generally in the society, we see the opposite where allocations are heavily based on actual age.

Felt age, actual age, and satisfaction with aging?

The interaction of subjective age with the actual age is an important aspect and a great research interest area as well. Subjective age is seen to be influenced by biological, social and psychological factors. And, it has a direct relation with physical activity patterns. That is why it tells us extensively about one’s health. With a lower subjective age, one is likely to enjoy and take part in fun oriented activities and in turn improve his/her physical well-being without even realizing. And, the converse is also true, a higher subjective age forces one to make his/her own restricted zone or so-called “comfort zone” and prompts to slowly develop a hesitation towards participation in activities other than in the daily routine.

In this regard, “age satisfaction” is an important term used by researchers studying human psychology. Whether it is felt age or actual age, the extent to which one is satisfied with age matters a lot. Feeling younger and having a sense of satisfaction with aging is a positive self-expression towards it. Perceived age or otherwise known as “look age” is considered as a self-appraisal of biological age. Satisfaction with age is directly related with factors of energy level changes, feeling of usefulness and quality of life. On the flip side, satisfaction with aging directly corresponds to one’s overall well-being.

Picture credits: pxhere

Interestingly, a research on self-perceptions of aging reported that individuals experienced a decrease with age satisfaction over time. The study took 6-year-longitudinal data from the Berlin Aging Study in consideration for the analysis.

Further research in this area has shown that experiencing signs of forgetfulness and loss of memory and having a feeling that one is not so mobile, triggers one to think that he/she is getting old and hence a rise in subjective age happens.

In most of the usual cases, subjective age keeps rising and one may not realize that for a long time. Research models have also shown that factors of financial satisfaction and self-esteem also play a crucial role in mediating actual age and subjective age. This implies that having a better lifestyle and financial security plays a crucial role in making you feel younger and healthier.

Considering all the assertions on the importance of subjective age with respect to actual age, it is very clear to understand that one’s subjective age is very critical in determining overall well-being, decision-making process, relationships, and conduct. While aging is a universal phenomenon which cannot be paused, halted or sped up, but one’s perception of it plays a key role. And, it is important to realize that physical and mental health is a factor of subjective age.