50 Is the New 40: Dissecting the Gap Between Chronological Age and Perceived Age 

If I asked you to tell me your age, would you give me your biological age, or would your brain revert to an age you feel more akin to? (To be fair, we’d probably shave off a few years because we feel younger at heart—and that’s okay). 

So, is aging subjective? Sure, we each have a birthday that reminds us of how old we are, chronologically speaking. But what about how old we feel? Those are two completely different perspectives. 

Today we’re exploring the gap between how old you feel and how old you are, the factors that influence those perceptions and the benefits of embracing an age that is a few years younger than the one on your birth certificate. 

Chronological Age vs. Perceived Age 

Speaking of birth certificates, no matter how long you squint at that official piece of paper, the numbers won’t lie. If you do the math correctly, this certificate will tell you your chronological age, or the objective number of years you’ve been alive. 

In contrast, your perceived age is how young or old you feel physically and mentally. Let’s say you’re 57. If someone asks your age, you may not look or feel remotely close to that number. If you live an active lifestyle, eat relatively healthily and have a social circle that lights up your life, you may feel at least 10 years younger. 

Many people all over the world have perceived ages that are younger than their chronological age. A long-term study in Germany showed that many participants felt an average of 11% younger than their biological age. 

What Factors Influence Our Perceived Age? 

It’s the question of the hour: What are the factors that shape our self-perceived age? The Germany study mentioned above sheds light on three major aspects that influenced the participants’ subjective ages: 

  • Education 
    Those with higher education often feel younger than their biological age. This could be because they gain a lifelong love of learning and mental stimulation. 
  • Health 
    It may come as no surprise that individuals who maintain a well-rounded diet rich in proteins, wholesome fats and carbohydrates tend to experience higher energy levels and an overall sense of well-being compared to those who frequently indulge in fast food or processed meals. 
  • Loneliness 
    Individuals with a robust social network comprised of friends, colleagues and family members tend to experience less loneliness. The study’s findings indicated that lonely individuals are more inclined to feel older than their actual age. 

Benefits of Feeling Younger Than You Are 

Perceiving yourself even a few years younger than you are may present you with several long-term benefits

  • Improved Psychological Well-Being 
    People with a younger perceived age tend to have a better sense of well-being and experience lower levels of depression
  • Better Physical Health 
    Embracing a youthful state of mind may lower your risk of dementia and hospitalization caused by illness. 
  • Reduced Risk of Death 
    According to a study by Yannick Stephan from the University of Montpellier, people who felt 8 to 13 years older than their actual age had an 18 to 25% greater risk of death than those who felt and embraced an age that was younger than their biological age. 
  • Increase in Physical Activity 
    If you are 60 and you feel 60 (or older), you may be less likely to partake in long walks or take an afternoon ride on the exercise bike. Why? Because you’re allowing your age to dictate what you’re capable of doing physically. However, leaving your biological age behind, adopting a younger perceived age and allowing your body to do as much physical activity as it wants may prove to you that you’re most certainly younger than you are. 
  • Improved Outlook on Life 
    Many people with a lower subjective age envision their future selves more favorably. From visualizing an active social life to picturing a longer lifespan, this can lend a more optimistic outlook on the concept of aging. 
  • Protection Against Aging Stereotypes 
    Ageism exists around the globe, from refusing to hire someone because of their age to charging them higher insurance premiums because they’re 65 or older. Feeling younger is an excellent form of self-defense against the negative associations that can come with ageism, as it can reduce their concerns and establish a more positive mindset for the years to come. 

Earn a Graduate Credential in Aging 

The scientific community is actively considering the implications of numerous studies on perceived age for health interventions and the strategic planning of healthcare for aging adults.  

So, could the simple act of inquiring about a patient’s subjective age serve as a valuable tool for identifying individuals who may be at a higher risk for future health problems? Furthermore, should geriatricians advocate for embracing an age that feels younger than one’s biological age? These are essential questions that may shape the future of healthcare for older adults, fostering a more holistic and personalized approach to aging-related concerns. 

If you’re intrigued by the evolving understanding of age and its impact on health, the University of Florida offers a range of online graduate programs designed to empower individuals like you with an expertise in aging. 

Explore our online graduate programs in the field of aging: 

Don’t miss the opportunity to embark on a new chapter in the field of aging studies. Apply to the University of Florida today to secure your spot in next semester’s classes and take the first step towards becoming a leader in the dynamic and impactful field of aging. Your future in aging studies begins here.