Acting Your Age May Be Bad for Your Health

You are only as old as you feel. Now there is evidence to suggest that people who feel younger than their actual age experience many positive mental and physical health benefits, and those who feel older experience worse health. “To be specific, those who report feeling relatively old experience lower positive and higher negative affect, lower life satisfaction, lower self-esteem, lower self-efficacy, lower meaning-focused coping, higher pessimism about aging, and higher work strain than those who feel younger relative to their chronological age,” said Steven E. Mock and Richard P. Eibach of the University of Waterloo and authors of a new study examining the relationship between attitude and aging. They noted that people who have a subjective age (the age they feel they are) below their chronological age experienced health benefits far beyond those who felt their age.

The team examined data on aging adults that was collected over ten years from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS). The participants were interviewed at the onset of the study (Wave 1), and again at the end of the study (Wave 2). The researchers found that at Wave 1, 86% of the respondents had a subjective age lower than their actual age. At Wave 2, that number dropped to 83%. “For aging attitudes, approximately 16% felt that quality of life was better for those in their 20s compared to those in their 60s, 20% felt that quality of life was the same whether people were in their 20s or 60s, and 64% rated quality of life for those in their 60s higher than those in their 20s,” said the team. Additionally, at both Waves, lower subjective age forecast higher life satisfaction. The researchers emphasized the important health consequences associated with aging attitudes. They added, “Less favorable attitudes toward aging have been linked to several detrimental psychological and physical outcomes for older adults including reduced will to live, greater cardiovascular stress, impaired cognitive, perceptual and motor functioning, and greater mortality.”

Mock, S. E., & Eibach, R. P. (2011, July 4). Aging Attitudes Moderate the Effect of Subjective Age on Psychological Well-Being: Evidence From a 10-Year Longitudinal Study. Psychology and Aging. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023877

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Beatrice


    October 4th, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    You are only as old as you act- I love that motto! I try to live by that mantra daily, because if you think and act old, then guess what? You are! And that is taking all of the fun out of life!

  • Geoff


    October 5th, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    I have read about the fact that people who feel younger than they are lead a better life and are more healthy. But is it really just by our evaluation of our age that we reap these benefits? Or could it be that because certain people have better health and life than others that they then oercueve themselves to be younger than they actually are??!

  • barry f

    barry f

    October 5th, 2011 at 6:49 AM

    See, you’ve discovered the fountain of youth – just don’t let yourself grow old. It’s really that simple.

  • Ciaran O'Connor

    Ciaran O'Connor

    October 5th, 2011 at 8:28 AM

    This is heavily linked to the public perception of age.

    If someone feels relatively older then what, exactly, are they basing this upon? Surely not experience as they have not reached the age they feel that they are. Therefore they are experiencing an sense of how they are EXPECTED to feel as years advance. The fact that this often accompanies poorer mental health indicates that those that associate age with misery are more likely to become miserable as they grow older.

    Conversely those that feel relatively younger are experiencing an absence of the expected feelings of old age. There is much evidence (some of which is presented above) that tells us that happiness increases with age; yet this contradicts our societal understanding of age. What I think this article highlights is that those people that can free themselves from the misconceptions surrounding age stand a far better chance of happiness in the face of growing old.

  • BT


    October 5th, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    What we ‘feel’ about our age mentally is what our body ‘teels’ our mind isn’t it?so i believe it is a right estimation of how old we really think we are, not in Earth years but according to our ‘system'(mind and body).

    And yes, it is a better measure of age than in Earth years if you ask me!

  • Beth G

    Beth G

    October 5th, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    I kind of agree with all of this, but on the other hand I find myself thinking that telling someone to act younger only gives them the ok to shirk responsibility and not take ownership of their actions and behavior. And that is something that we definitely do not need more of: grown adults acting like little kids!

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