Feeling Young Might Mean Your Brain Is Aging More Slowly
Staying young at heart might also mean staying young at brain. A new study suggests people who feel younger than their years may age cognitively more slowly than those who feel their age or older.
“Why do some people feel younger or older than their real age?” asks study leader Jeanyung Chey, PhD, of Seoul National University, South Korea. “Some possibilities include depressive states, personality differences or physical health. However, no one had investigated brain aging processes as a possible reason for differences in subjective age.”
As we get older, our neural health declines, and our volume of grey matter — the collection of neural cells — reduces. In essence, our brains age; this is the process behind slowing cognitive ability that often comes in life’s later years.
Using MRI brain scans to analyze the volume of grey matter in various regions of the brain, Chey’s team calculated brain age for 68 healthy people between ages 59 and 84. Participants also answered questions about how old they felt, as well as underwent assessment of their cognitive and overall health.
The team found elderly people who said they felt younger than their actual age, showed fewer signs of brain aging. Published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, the study is the first to show a connection between the age we feel (known as subjective age) and brain age.
Researchers found that people who felt younger had better memory and overall health, and were less likely to report depressive symptoms. People who felt younger also had higher volumes of grey matter in key areas of the brain.
“We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain,” explains Chey. “Importantly, this difference remains robust even when other possible factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for.”
It is possible, the researchers say, that when the brain ages, people can sense the aging process – the cognitive difficulties that come with the loss of gray matter — which is why they feel older. Another possibility is that people who feel younger are more likely to be more mentally and physically active, which in turn promotes brain health.
However, this is speculative, they say. Long-term studies need to be carried out in order to further understand the link between subjective age and brain age. Until then, Chey suggests the findings could be a prompt to individuals who feel older than their age, to find something that rejuvenates them.
“If somebody feels older than their age, it could be sign for them to evaluate their lifestyle, habits and activities that could contribute to brain aging and take measures to better care for their brain health,” Chey says.