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How Old Do You Feel?

I'm afraid to ask my husband this question. He'll likely say something like "80", and since he's really only 52, I won't know what to say. Because saying you feel like you're eighty when you're only 52 is like saying I think I'm going to die soon. Which has all kinds of issues.

When people ask me how old I feel, I often say something like, "My body feels 50, but my spirit feels 21!". I feel confident that if I didn't have ME/CFS, my body would feel young, too.

I've always been fascinated by this phenomenon—the idea that our bodies age while (possibly) our spirits don't—or at least they don't age at the same speed. Everyone I've ever asked over the age of 40 (with the possible exception of David) has said they feel like they're in their 20's. Imagine if you could be 50 and not only your spirit but your body felt decades younger? It makes me shake my head in wonder.

The other day my son Xander told me that the US government had committed $500,000 to study some Japanese bird. Sometimes it boggles the mind what people will choose to study, but then I discovered that scientists had actually studied this phenomenon of feeling younger than your actual years—they call it perceived age vs. developmental age, but we'll just call it chronological.

I'm 53, 10 months and 3 days. That's just fact—I was born July 20th, 1068. No matter how I might wish that I were younger, no one can turn back the clock. I could give in, see that the average female lifespan in the United States is about 79 years and start counting down. 26 years to go...

I could, but why would I want to? The more I imagine myself as being old, the more I'd feel old. The more I'd be old.

Because what the scientists discovered shouldn't come as a surprise to any of us who have claimed to feel way younger than our years: People who feel younger actually do have a younger biological age than people of the same chronological age but who feel their age or older.

Think about that for a second! If you feel younger, you will actually be younger. There wasn't anything in the articles I read about whether you could create this response in your body through positive affirmations and the like, but I am a believer in the fake-it-till-you-make it philosophy, so shouldn't that apply to our brains?

Scientists are finding that people who feel younger than their chronological age are typically healthier and more psychologically resilient than those who feel older. They perform better on memory tasks and are at lower risk of cognitive decline. In a study published in 2018, a team of South Korean researchers scanned the brains of 68 healthy older adults and found that those who felt younger than their age had thicker brain matter and had endured less age-related deterioration. By contrast, people who feel older than their chronological age are more at risk for hospitalization, dementia and death. (Emily Laber-Warren, "You're Only as Old as You Feel", The New York Times, Oct. 17, 2019)

I want thicker brain matter. I want to be healthier and more psychologically resilient. I want my husband to feel that way, too. Unfortunately, while mind over matter might work for a lot of us, for those who struggle with depression and other mental health issues, it's not as simple as saying, "I feel 20 years younger today!".

Still, I can radiate positivity, and hope some of it rubs off. I can think positively and be an example of hopeful, resilient thinking. At worst, I help only myself live a happier, longer life; at best, my husband gets a little sunshine he might not otherwise have, and he comes along for the long haul.

I'm going to embrace my crazy brain who thinks she's twenty-one and raise her six years. Let's aim for 85, honey.



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