I am 18 at heart and science thinks so too! 6



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I’ve been tremendously cheered up by the findings of scientists from the University College, London, that feeling younger than your actual age might be good for you.

The research team used data from a study on ageing which surveyed 6,489 individuals whose average chronological age was 65.8 years but whose average self-perceived aged was 56.8 years. Most – 69.6 per cent – felt three or more years younger than their actual age, 25.6 per cent had a self-perceived age close to their real age and 4.8 per cent felt more than a year older than their chronological age.

Given that I feel that I am only 18, I have concluded from this study that I should live to be 168. That is not to mean that I have already entered my second childhood and, yes, I can hear the critics saying, “There’s no fool like an old fool” but, honestly, a bit of self-delusion can have positive benefits. Very possibly, I’ve taken my self-delusion a wee bit too far.

After all, even some cosmetic change – anything from having your hair done to a complete face-lift – does induce some positive feelings of self-worth: I call it the ”I’m looking pretty damn good for a person of my age” reaction.

The study showed that self-perceived age can reflect honest assessments of health, physical limitation and well-being later in life.

Mortality rates during an average of 99 months were 14.3 per cent in adults who felt younger, 18.5 per cent in those who felt their actual age and 24.6 per centin those who felt older. While the association between self-perceived age and cardiovascular death was strong, there was no association between self-perceived age and cancer death. The risk of heart disease increases with age while cancer can strike any age group.

The study concluded, “The mechanisms underlying these associations merit further investigation. Possibilities include a broader set of health behaviours than we measured (such as maintaining a healthy weight and adherence of medical advice), and greater resilience, sense of mastery and will to live among those who felt younger than their age. Self-perceived age has the potential to change, so interventions may be possible. Individuals who feel older than their actual age could be targeted with health messages promoting positive health behaviours and attitudes towards ageing:.

Meanwhile, another team at St Michael’s Hospital at the University of Toronto has found that while most adults want to avoid looking as older than their actual age – no surprise there! Looking older than your actual age does not necessarily point to poor health. In fact, the study concluded that a person would have to look at least 10 years older than their actual age before any assumptions could be made about their general health.

According to one of this team, Dr Stephen Hwang, “Few people are aware that when physicians describe their patients to other physicians, they often include an assessment of whether the patient looks older than his or her actual age

“This long-standing medical practice assumes that people who look older than their actual age are likely to be in poor health but our study shows this isn’t always true,” he said.

The study found that when a physician rated an individual as looking up to five years older than their actual age, it had little value in predicting whether or not the person was in poor health. However, when a physician thought that a person looked ten years or more years older than their actual age, 99 per cent of these individuals had very poor physical or mental health.

Dr Hwang explained, “Physicians have simply assumed that their quick assessment of how old a person looks has diagnostic value. We were really surprised to find that people have to look a decade older than their actual age before it’s a reliable sign that they are in poor health. It was also very interesting to discover that many people who look their age are in poor health. Doctors need to remember than even if patients look their age, we shouldn’t assume that their health is fine”.

The study looked at 126 people between the ages of 30 and 70 who were visiting a doctor’s office and participants completed a survey that accurately determined whether they had poor physical or mental health. Each was photographed and the photographs were shown to 58 physicians who were told what the subject’s actual age and asked to rate how old the person looked.

Perhaps we patients should be asked to consider a list photographs of medicos for our assessment as to which looked the brightest. My GP would come stone bloody last – he looks like a particularly dull 60-year-old when, in fact, he has more degrees than I have had cold drinks on a hot day and he is actually in his late 30s.

Next time your doctor preaches at you remind him or her than it was Jesus who said, “Physician, heal thyself”.  That should pull the bugger up.

How old do you feel? Do you think you’re younger or older than you truly are?

Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. I am 34 – and, like you, Morvyth, the mirrors in my house have been hijacked by an older woman!

  2. Real age – 80. Depending on the day there are some I feel 50 but there are the odd ones I feel 90. I’m told I look 65 so – take your pick. Today is one of the better ones.

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