How old we feel doesn’t always match up with how old we are. Some days you feel like a spring chicken, and other days you discover a grey hair and feel a step closer to the pearly gates. A new study in the journal Psychology and Health finds that for older adults, the subjective perception of age (that is, how old we feel compared to how old we are) changes on a day-to-day basis. When people felt more physical pain from health problems, were particularly stressed, or were in a bad mood, they felt older than on days when they felt relatively little pain and stress.
The study examined 43 people (the majority women) over the age of 60 over the course of eight days. The volunteers filled out questionnaires each day about their subjective age (“How old do you feel today?”), mood, stressors, and physical health. Most of the participants demonstrated discrepancies between their actual age and how they felt, and the sizes of those discrepancies varied on a day-to-day basis.
This is not the first study to indicate that real age doesn't often match up with subjective age. One 2006 study of almost 1500 Danes found that, over the age of 40, people feel 20 percent younger than their true age. But this new study suggests that over very short periods of time, certain situations influence subjective ages and could have made that 20 percent figure vary widely.
However, the researchers were unable to prove that people felt pain first, then felt older as a result. It’s possible that pain and stress could be a response to feeling old. With less than four dozen volunteers, the study was far from definitive, and much more research will be needed to prove if you're feeling old because you're sick, or whether it's the other way around.
[h/t: BPS Research Digest]