Real vs perceived age: A matter of life and death

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2014 4:06 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — How old do you feel? Think carefully — the answer might help predict how much longer you'll live. That's according to British research posing that question to about 6,500 adults. Those who felt younger than their real age lived the longest over the following eight years.

Here are five key findings from the study, by researchers Isla Rippon and Andrew Steptoe at University College London. Results were published online Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine:

REAL VS. PERCEIVED AGE

The average real age of those questioned was about 66 years. Most adults felt at least three years younger than their real age. Those who felt younger had the least chances of dying over about eight years after the age question was asked. Adults who felt older than their actual age had the greatest chances of dying in that period.

THE NITTY GRITTY

The researchers analyzed data from a study in England on aging that included information on deaths during a follow-up period that ended in February 2013; deaths totaled 1,030. About 14 percent of the young-feeling adults died during the follow-up, versus 19 percent of those who felt their actual age and 25 percent of those who felt older.

Feeling older was a predictor of death even when the researchers accounted for things that could affect death rates, including illnesses, wealth, education, smoking, alcohol intake and physical activity. Older-feeling adults were about 40 percent more likely to die than younger-feeling adults.

WHAT THEY RULED OUT

The researchers did a separate test, excluding deaths within a year of when the age question was asked. The idea was to see if answers from people already dying might have explained the link between feeling old and death. The link persisted even without those first-year deaths.

WHY THE LINK?

It's possible that health conditions and lifestyle choices that the researchers didn't study explain why feeling old may help predict death. Or it may be that those who feel younger than their real age have "greater resilience, sense of mastery, and will to live," the researchers said. They said more study is needed to be certain.

SILVER LINING?

Perceived age may change over the years, and there might be ways to reduce chances of death in people who feel older than their actual age. The researchers said that might include health messages that promote healthy behaviors and attitudes about aging.

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Online:

Journal: http://www.jamainternalmedicine.com

Aging Study: http://www.elsa-project.ac.uk

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AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/LindseyTanner