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New Study Highlights Truth of Old Saying, ‘You’re Only as Old as You Feel’

May 26, 2016

If you feel older you’re more likely to end up in the hospital, according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by the American Psychological Association, involved more than 10,000 adults age 24 to 102. Researchers reviewed data from three different studies across an 18-year period and found that people who felt older than their actual age were 10 to 25 times more likely to be hospitalized within the following 10 years.

In each study, researchers determined participants “subjective age” by asking them how old they felt at the beginning of the study. They also asked if participants previously had been diagnosed with certain health conditions, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Participants also filled out a questionnaire that asked whether they had experienced symptoms of depression.

During various follow-up periods throughout the studies, participants informed researchers whether they had been hospitalized for any reason. The studies controlled for age, gender, race and education, but the data still showed a correlation between feeling older and being in the hospital.

Though the study didn’t determine the underlying reason for this connection, researchers think there could be a link between feeling older, being less active and experiencing faster mental decline. They say offering standard health treatments, such as physical activity and exercise programs, to people who feel older could reduce their risk of depression, chronic disease and hospitalization.

“Feeling older is associated with poorer physical and mental health, but also with physiological impairments that may result in illness and health service use over time,” said Angelina Sutin, one of the study’s co-authors.

Though the link between attitude and health-related issues has been well documented, the study’s authors say this is the first study that assesses the impact of subjective age on a person’s risk for hospitalization. We often talk about the mind-body connection. Often, people who are more aware of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors are better able to cope with stress and have a better outlook on life. The better you feel, the more engaged you likely are with everything around you, which can prevent you from being sedentary and reduce feelings of depression.

I truly believe that older adults can maintain better mental and physical wellness — and independence — over the long term if they focus on this mind-body connection. There’s a common misconception that health issues are inevitable as you age, but taking steps to remain active, to surround yourself with loved ones and to focus on activities that you enjoy will help you feel younger. As the old saying goes, “you’re only as old as you feel,” so make every effort to feel your best.