You can fight the damaging effects of stress simply by feeling younger.
That’s according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Psychology and Aging.
Researchers from the German Centre of Gerontology analyzed 3 years of data from 5,039 participants over 40 years old in the German Ageing Survey.
They questioned people on their perceived relationship to stress and their overall feelings of health or feelings of well-being.
Subjective age, or how old the participants felt, provided some sort of protective effect against stress.
Participants who reported more stress in their lives experienced a steeper decline in functional health over 3 years. This relationship was stronger for chronologically older participants.
Feeling younger than their chronological age was associated with a weaker link between stress and functional health. The benefits of this were seen to increase with participant age, too.
In other words, feeling more youthful than you are helps buffer the effects of stress. This can play a role in maintaining your overall health as you age.
So, when it comes to your health, the age you feel could be more important than your actual birthdate.
This isn’t a new concept.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source has previously advised people that their heart age could be beyond their actual years due to lifestyle factors such as stress. Reducing that age is a key in reducing risk of heart disease and stroke.
But what does it really mean to “feel younger”?
“Feeling younger is an attitude of playfulness, emotional flexibility, and leaning into creativity,” said Akua K. Boateng, PhD, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist in Philadelphia.
Boateng told Healthline this research enhances her clinical understanding that feeling younger, with the absence of extreme stress, does affect longevity.
“As a clinician, I have seen the damaging effects of stress on the emotional life,” she said. “Years of trauma, anxiety, and chronic stress erode our ability to wonder, be creative, and seek adventure.”
The study authors suggest that interventions targeted at helping people feel younger may help reduce the harm caused by stress as well as improve health among older adults.
They added that further study is needed to help determine what kinds of interventions would work best.
So, what should you take away from this? Well, experts say feeling younger can be as simple as shifting your mindset.
Begin by asking yourself how old you feel today.
Then, make a conscious effort to incorporate the following lifestyle modifications into your everyday routine. Over time, small changes can completely transform your life.
Boateng shares her lifestyle tips for feeling younger:
- Play. Incorporate play into your weekly schedule (e.g., games, sports, or social interactions).
- Laugh. Lean into laughter at least once a day.
- Learn. Start a hobby that allows you to explore something either new or continue learning.
- Explore. Enhance your curiosity (ask questions about what feels established and known).
- Seek. Be spontaneous and seek adventure.
The National Institute on Aging suggests tackling stress in other ways, including:
- starting a stress relief program
- increasing physical activity
- talking things out with friends and family
If you’re struggling to shift your mindset, consider talking with peers, mentors, and trusted professionals about what may not be working.
There are many avenues of changing your mindset, and oftentimes seeking support from others who may be feeling the same or may have experienced this before is helpful.
If you’re still feeling “off” about your age or your relationship to stress, consider mental health support.