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Posted at 7:15 AM ET, 12/29/2010

You're only as young as you feel

By Rob Stein

We all know the old saying, "You're only as young as you feel." Well, there may be some truth to that, according to researchers at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard University who studies how the mind influences the body, reviewed the scientific literature with two colleagues for evidence that feeling young can actually make you more youthful. In a paper published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, Langer and her colleagues cited a number of studies to support their theory.

In one study that Langer led, women had their hair cut and dyed. When impartial volunteers looked at before-and-after pictures of the 47 women, those who thought their new hair-dos made them look younger did look younger to the objective observers, who only saw their faces, the researchers reported. The women who thought they looked younger also had lower blood pressure.

Now, of course, that study alone far from proves the hypothesis. So the researchers cited a variety of other studies that they argue suggest that a person's perception of their age may influence their health. For example, another study involving 4,421 men found that whose who became bald at a relatively young age were more likely to get prostate cancer and heart disease than men who did not. Similarly, another study involving 2,017 men found those who lost their hair early were more likely to develop heart disease. They attribute this to the fact that these men perceive themselves as looking older.

The researchers also described studies that found that women who had children later in life were more likely to be healthier and live longer, which they attributed to the fact that these mothers tend to spend more time with younger women. Similarly, people who marry younger partners tend to live longer than those who marry older partners, according to other studies.

Taken together, the research "supports the general mind/body hypothesis that when a younger mind is primed, a younger body can accompany it." While the mechanism remains unclear, the researchers speculated that such cues can "make one unconsciously or consciously aware of old age and set in motion a series of physiological processes that can have real effects on short-term and long-term health."

What do you think? Can thinking young keep you young?

By Rob Stein  | December 29, 2010; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  Aging, Health News, Psychology  
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Comments

I'm sure this story is set to anger a number of guys with prostate cancer. I wonder if the authors discussed a link between hormone levels, baldness and heart disease?

Posted by: batwoman | December 29, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Wow -- I'm sure the fact that people who look older adjust their body image has nothing to do with it, nor does the fact that people feel older when they have a chronic illness, nor does the fact that only healthy women can have kids at older ages...get the idea? Again, only healthier women would marry younger men, for many reasons. Self-perception of age can actually follow reality, rather than the converse. The studies they're picking out to back up their story kind of invite confounding. Maybe Langer needs to study how the body influences the mind and self-image, as well as how the mind influences the body!

Posted by: yeargin2000 | December 29, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Wow -- I'm sure the fact that people who look older adjust their body image has nothing to do with it, nor does the fact that people feel older when they have a chronic illness, nor does the fact that only healthy women can have kids at older ages...get the idea? Again, only healthier women would marry younger men, for many reasons. Self-perception of age can actually follow reality, rather than the converse. The studies they're picking out to back up their story kind of invite confounding. Maybe Langer needs to study how the body influences the mind and self-image, as well as how the mind influences the body!

Posted by: yeargin2000 | December 29, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

I am shocked at these conclusions.Sure, you feel happier if you look younger but as the other posters point out,those who lose their hair early have hormone loss that may predispose them to heart problems.

Posted by: artieanna52 | December 30, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

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