How old you feel has surprisingly strong effects on your health, new studies show. Here’s how to tap into a mindset that'll keep you energized, healthy, and strong.

By By Mirel Zaman
Updated: April 05, 2019
Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images

Age really is just a number. Science is finding that how old you feel may actually predict how long you'll live, how happy you are, and your general state of health for the next two decades, says Jennifer Bellingtier, Ph.D., a postdoctoral psychology researcher at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany.

"That mental state is known as subjective age, and it reflects your perception of how well you're growing older," she says. "If you think you're aging poorly, you may be less motivated to exercise, eat well, or engage in other healthy behaviors." (Related: The Best Anti-Aging Workout You Can Do)

Subjective age is incredibly powerful. Studies show that adults who feel younger have fewer signs of brain aging and better muscular, pulmonary, and metabolic functions compared with those who feel older.

Fortunately, perception of age is something you can easily control and change for the better. Start with these four techniques, which have been scientifically proved to help you stay young, inside and out.

Don't stress over the little things.

Even minor irritations like a disagreement with a friend or an unexpected traffic jam can build up, leaving you irritable and exhausted-which in turn can make you feel older, research shows.

One way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by little stressors is to vary your routine, says Robert Leahy, Ph.D., the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy. Tweaking your behaviors makes your brain more malleable, so you can maintain a more positive point of view in the face of daily stress. Simple acts like going for a bike ride instead of a run, or scheduling lunch or coffee dates with new acquaintances, can make the difference. (Also try these anxiety-reducing techniques for common worry traps.)

Find the upside.

Some evidence indicates that perfectionism increases subjective age, says Bellingtier. Perfectionists tend to be hard on themselves. They might criticize how they look or how they perform compared with another person in their workout class and gradually begin to feel old.

A technique called positive reframing can ease the hypercritical nature of perfectionism, says Leahy. Let's say you're beating yourself up for missing a deadline at work. Using positive reframing, you might focus on the fact that you've learned something valuable about handling your to-dos better. (Related: These Three Words Are Turning You Into a Negative Person)

This strategy may seem forced when you first give it a try, but as it becomes more natural it will soften the edges of your perfectionistic tendencies, and you'll start to feel younger and happier. (P.S. How you feel about your body majorly affects your happiness level too.)

Work it out.

Exercise makes you healthier, stronger, and happier, all of which have positive effects on your subjective age.

In a study from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, adults who were asked to increase their daily step count walked away feeling younger than those who were more sedentary. Working on developing your athletic skills through small, manageable goals-like increasing your running distance or advancing your yoga pose-may be especially beneficial, says Bellingtier. (Related: How to Lengthen Your Telomeres with Exercise-and Why You'll Want to)

Feeling in control increases what experts call personal mastery, and people with a greater sense of that quality felt younger than others, the journal Aging and Mental Health reports. Being in charge of your life gives you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

See new places.

Traveling makes adults in their 40s and 50s feel younger, according to studies at the University of Connecticut. "Other research suggests that people who are open to new experiences, like learning about different cultures, also tend to feel more youthful," says Bellingtier. (See: The Health and Fitness Benefits of Trying New Things)

Why? Travel exposes you to activities and adventures. Being willing to try new things may encourage a general curiosity about the world, and that sense of wonder can make you feel youthful, researchers say. Plus, doing things that are completely novel activates the brain's feel-good dopamine system, studies show, leaving you energized and excited about life. (Next up: Other things you can do to slow down your body's aging process.)

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