Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante, two of the most popular American artists of the 20th century, each sang the hit song called “Young at Heart.”   It speaks of the gift of being young at heart where your cares and concerns have flown out the window and you look forward to each day with joy and excitement.

This feeling of being young at heart really is a gift when it comes to living longer.  A research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine addresses the study’s search for the associations between self-perceived age and mortality – do people who feel younger than their chronological age actually have a reduced mortality.

Almost 6500 people 52 years and older (average chronological age was 65.8 years) participated in the study who were asked the question “How old do you feel?”  Most of the adults (69.6 percent) felt three years or more younger than their actual age; 25.6 percent had a self-perceived age close to their real age, and 4.8 percent felt more than a year older than their chronological age.  Then, the participants were divided into three groups of those whose self-perceived age was close to their chronological age (1 year older to 2 years younger), those who felt more than 1 year older, and the third group who felt 3 or more years younger than their actual age.

After a follow-up 99 months or eight years later of these three groups, results showed the participants who felt three or more years younger than their actual age had a lower death rate compared with those who felt their age or those who felt more than one year older than their actual age.

But what was particularly eye-opening was that eight years after the study participants answered the age question, the scientists looked at the mortality rates in each group over that period of time:

  • 3 percent of those who felt younger than their age had died
  • 5 percent of those who felt about their age had died
  • 6 percent of those who felt older than their age had died

Staying as young as you feel

The results of the study do not show an association between those who expressed they felt younger than their actual age but it appears that if you do feel “young at heart,” there seems to be a greater likelihood of having better health thus a longer life.  When we feel younger than our years, we tend to take better care of ourselves and have a more optimistic view of the world.

How can we stay young and is it possible to actually grown younger each year – sort of like the character played by Brad Pitt in the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Slowing down chronological age

Obviously time marches on and with each year brings one more birthday and becoming one year older.  That we cannot deny but we can do things to slow down the pace of us growing older, sort of defying age, to where we do feel psychologically younger than our age and even look physiologically much younger than what our birthday states we are.

Here are some suggestions on helping you reaching a younger state of mind:

  • Eat a better diet. Some people as they age have the attitude, “I’m getting old therefore I want to eat whatever I want.”  Certainly anyone has the choice to do that but it won’t make you feel any younger and it could lead to a chronic disease you’ll have to deal with such as diabetes, heart disease or hypertension.  When we feel young, we believe we have a future still ahead of us motivating us to eat healthier – avoid foods high in sugar, trans and saturated fats. Focus instead on increasing fiber, healthy fats, fruits, veggies, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Get moving by exercising. People who regularly exercise do look, feel, and act much younger than other people of the same age who do not.  Again, if your attitude is “I’m too old to exercise,” you’ll give up and you really will become old.  Exercise maintains muscle mass, keeps our heart healthy, blood pressure lowered, we sleep better and get sick less often.  Get in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
  • Try new things, learn new ideas, and develop new skills. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to garden or quilt or learn a new language, what’s holding you back?  When we challenge ourselves beyond out comfort zone, we grow our mind expanding our horizons.
  • Learn to appreciate each day as a gift. Maybe things don’t always go like you want them to, but learn to be present in the moment, focusing on the future and letting go of past regrets.
  • Find something to laugh about each day. Laugh at your spouse’s quirky sense of humor, or when the dog greets you at the door with his doggy smile.  Humor can be found in most situations, even in times of sorrow.  Humor and laughter is what gets us through rough times and connects us with one another.
  • Have a sense of purpose in life. The people I’ve known who grow old the fastest are those without any meaning or purpose in their life.  They become self-centered focusing only on their problems without much regard for others.  Have a hobby, join a club, volunteer, or do activities to enrich the lives of others less fortunate than you.  The more we turn our attention to others, the more we gain self-respect, self-worth and that young at heart feeling.

And like the song “Young at Heart” states in the last verse:

“And if you should survive to a hundred and five    

Look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive

And here is the best part, you have a head start

If you are among the very young at heart” 

Categories: Health

Cheryl Mussatto

Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City, an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, Ks where she teaches Basic Nutrition, and is a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi and nutroutine.com, an online market place connecting nutrition experts with customers worldwide. She can be contacted here.

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