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心理年龄和生理年龄:哪个对健康更重要
The age you feel means more than your actual birthdate

[2018年8月18日] 来源:BBC双语阅读 作者:大卫•罗布森David Robson   字号 [] [] []  

Imagine, for a moment, that you had no birth certificate and your age was simply based on the way you feel inside. How old would you say you are?


Like your height or shoe size, the number of years that have passed since you first entered the world is an unchangeable fact. But everyday experience suggests that we often don’t experience ageing the same way, with many people feeling older or younger than they really are.


Scientists are increasingly interested in this quality. They are finding that your ‘subjective age’ may be essential for understanding the reasons that some people appear to flourish as they age – while others fade. “The extent to which older adults feel much younger than they are may determine important daily or life decisions for what they will do next,” says Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia.


Its importance doesn’t end there. Various studies have even shown that your subjective age also can predict various important health outcomes, including your risk of death. In some very real ways, you really are ‘only as old as you feel’.


Given these enticing results, many researchers are now trying to unpick the many biological, psychological, and social factors that shape the individual experience of ageing – and how this knowledge might help us live longer, healthier lives.


This new understanding of the ageing process has been decades in the making. Some of the earliest studies charting the gap between felt and chronological age appeared in the 1970s and 1980s. That trickle of initial interest has now turned into a flood. A torrent of new studies during the last 10 years have explored the potential psychological and physiological consequences of this discrepancy.


One of the most intriguing strands of this research has explored the way subjective age interacts with our personality. It is now well accepted that people tend to mellow as they get older, becoming less extroverted and less open to new experiences – personality changes which are less pronounced in people who are younger at heart and accentuated in people with older subjective ages.


Having a lower subjective age doesn't leave us frozen in a state of permanent immaturity


Interestingly, however, the people with younger subjective ages also became more conscientious and less neurotic – positive changes that come with normal ageing. So they still seem to gain the wisdom that comes with greater life experience. But it doesn’t come at the cost of the energy and exuberance of youth. It’s not as if having a lower subjective age leaves us frozen in a state of permanent immaturity.


Feeling younger than your years also seems to come with a lower risk of depression and greater mental wellbeing as we age. It also means better physical health, including your risk of dementia, and less of a chance that you will be hospitalised for illness.


Yannick Stephan at the University of Montpellier examined the data from three longitudinal studies which together tracked more than 17,000 middle-aged and elderly participants.


Most people felt about eight years younger than their actual chronological age. But some felt they had aged – and the consequences were serious. Feeling between 8 and 13 years older than your actual age resulted in an 18-25% greater risk of death over the study periods, and greater disease burden – even when you control for other demographic factors such as education, race or marital status.


There are many reasons why subjective age tells us so much about our health. It may be a direct result of those accompanying personality changes, with a lower subjective age meaning that you enjoy a greater range of activities (such as travelling or learning a new hobby) as you age. “Studies have found, for example, that subjective age is predictive of physical activity patterns,” Stephan says.


But the mechanism linking physical and mental wellbeing to subjective age almost certainly acts in both directions. If you feel depressed, forgetful, and physically vulnerable, you are likely to feel older. The result could be a vicious cycle, with psychological and physiological factors both contributing to a higher subjective age and worse health, which makes us feel even older and more vulnerable.


Stephan’s analysis, which is now in press in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, is the largest study of the effect of subjective age on mortality to date. These large effect sizes demand close attention. “These associations are comparable or stronger than the contribution of chronological age,” says Stephan.


Put another way: your subjective age can better predict your health than the date on your birth certificate.

With this in mind, many scientists are trying to identify the social and psychological factors that may shape this complex process. When do we start to feel that our minds and bodies are operating on different timescales? And why does it happen?


For most people, subjective ageing appears to occur on Mars, where one Earth decade equals only 5.3 Martian years


Working with Nicole Lindner (also at the University of Virginia), Nosek has investigated the ways the discrepancy between subjective and chronological age evolves across the lifetime. As you might expect, most children and adolescents feel older than they really are. But this switches at around 25, when the felt age drops behind the chronological age. By age 30, around 70% of people feel younger than they really are. And this discrepancy only grows over time. As Nosek and Lindner put it in their paper, “Subjective ageing appears to occur on Mars, where one Earth decade equals only 5.3 Martian years.”


Lindner and Nosek also measured the “desired age” of their participants – which, to their surprise, also followed Martian time. “It keeps going up with us, and at just a slightly slower rate than how we feel right now,” Nosek said. This would seem to “support the idea that we experience our life experiences as continuously getting better, just a bit more slowly than our actual experiences,” he says. It’s not as if there is one single peak age. Again, this flip occurs in our mid-20s: 60% of 20-year-olds want to be older. But by the age 26, 70% would prefer to be younger, and from then on, most people view the recent past with the rosiest spectacles.


Some psychologists have speculated that a lower subjective age is a form of self-defence, protecting us from the negative age stereotypes – as seen in a nuanced study by Anna Kornadt at Bielefeld University in Germany.


Kornadt’s study hinged on the idea that people’s subjective age might be a multifaceted thing that varies in different domains. You may feel differently when you think about yourself at work compared with when you think about your social relationships, for example. And so Kornadt asked participants to say whether they felt younger or older than they really were in different areas of life.


Sure enough, she found that people’s subjective ages were lower when negative age stereotypes are most prevalent – such as work, health and finance – which would seem to support the idea that this thinking helps people distance themselves from the negative connotations of their age-group. Believing “I may be 65 but I only feel 50” would mean you are less worried about your performance at work, for instance. Kornadt also found that people with a lower subjective age tended to imagine their future self in a more positive light.


By protecting us from our society’s dismal view of ageing and giving us a more optimistic view of our future, this self-defence could, in turn, further explain some of the health benefits of feeling younger than you really are.


Despite these advances, scientists are only getting to grips with their potential implications, though it is certainly possible that future interventions might try to reduce participants’ subjective age and improve their health as a result. In one of the few existing studies, elderly participants in a fitness regime enjoyed greater strength gains if the experimenters praised their performance relative to other people of their age.


And given its predictive power – beyond our actual chronological age – Stephan believes that doctors should be asking all their patients about their subjective age to identify the people who are most at risk of future health problems to plan their existing health care more effectively.


In the meantime, these findings can give us all a more nuanced view of the way our own brains and bodies weather the passing of time. However old you really are, it’s worth questioning whether any of those limitations are coming from within.

想象一下,如果没有出生证明,对于年龄的判断仅基于内心感受,你会觉得自己多大了?


和身高以及鞋码一样,你来到这个世界的年头是不可改变的事实。但日常经验表明,通常我们的衰老程度与实际年龄并不相符,很多人感觉自己比实际年龄更衰老或更年轻。


科学家们对这种特点的兴趣渐增。他们开始发现,"主观年龄"至关重要,这有助于理解为什么有些人随着年岁增长精神愈发饱满,而另一些人则未老先衰。弗吉尼亚大学的诺塞克(Brian Nosek)说:"年纪大的人觉得自己在多大程度上小于自己的实际年龄,可能会决定他们如何做出日常判断或生命决策。"

"主观年龄"的重要性不止于此。各种研究甚至表明,你的主观年龄还可以预测各种重要的健康状况,包括死亡风险。在现实生活中,有时候你真的"只有你感觉的那么老"。


鉴于这些诱人的结果,许多研究人员正在深入剖析影响个人衰老的生物学、心理学和社会因素,以及这种认识如何帮助我们活得更长久、更健康。


25岁以后,大多数人都觉得自己比实际年龄年轻。

这种对衰老过程的新认识已经酝酿了几十年。最早记录主观年龄与实际年龄差距的研究出现在20世纪七八十年代,最初的兴趣从涓涓细流变成滔滔泉涌。过去的10年里,大量新研究探索了这种差异带来的潜在心理和生理后果。


最有趣的一个方面是,研究探索了主观年龄与个性之间的联系。现在大家普遍认为,随着年龄增长,人们会变得更成熟,变得不那么外向,也不太有开放的心态去尝试新经历。性格变化在心态年轻的人身上表现得不太明显,而在主观年龄较大的人身上则表现更明显。


然而,有趣的是,主观年龄较低的人会更有责任心,不那么神经质,而这些特征是正常衰老过程中产生的积极变化。因此,随着生活经验的累积,这些人似乎增长了智慧,但这并非以青春活力和能量为代价。较低的主观年龄并不意味着永远不成熟。


随着年龄的增长,觉得自己比实际年龄年轻的人患抑郁症的风险更低,心理健康状况也更好。这也意味着他们的身体更健康,包括患痴呆症的风险更低,因生病而住院的几率也更少。


蒙彼利埃大学(University of Montpellier)的斯蒂芬(Yannick Stephan)对三项纵向研究的数据进行了分析,这些研究总共跟踪了逾1.7万名中年和老年参与者。


大多数人感觉自己比实际年龄小八岁。但有些人觉得自己已经衰老了,这种想法产生了严重的后果。在研究期间,觉得自己比实际年龄大8到13岁的人,死亡风险高出了18-25%。甚至当控制了其他人口学因素,如教育、种族或婚姻状况时,这些人仍会承受更重的疾病负担。


随着年龄增长,主观年龄较低的人患痴呆症的可能性更小,死亡率也更低。

有很多原因可以解释为何主观年龄与健康状况息息相关。这可能是性格变化带来的直接结果,较低的主观年龄意味着,随着年纪增长你可以享受更多活动(比如旅行,或者培养一项新爱好)。史蒂芬说::"研究发现,主观年龄可以预测身体活动模式。"


但将身心健康与主观年龄联系起来的机制肯定是双向作用的。当你感到沮丧、健忘、体弱,你可能会觉得自己老了。这是一个恶性循环,心理和生理因素都将导致主观年龄增加和健康状况恶化,我们会觉得自己更年迈、更脆弱。

史蒂芬的分析结果刊登在了《身心医学》(Psychosomatic Medicine)期刊上,这是迄今为止关于主观年龄对死亡率影响的规模最大的研究。这些因主观年龄产生的巨大效应需要密切关注。"这些关联与实际年龄所带来的影响相当,甚至更强,"斯蒂芬说。


换句话说,主观年龄比出生证上的日期更能预测你的健康状况。


主观年龄较低的人更容易有积极的个性发展,精力更充沛,且具有较强的自制力。

考虑到这一点,许多科学家正在寻找影响这一复杂过程的社会及心理因素。什么时候我们开始察觉到思想和身体在不同的时间尺度上发展?为什么会这样?


诺塞克和同样在弗吉尼亚大学工作的林德纳(Nicole Lindner)一起研究了人一生中主观年龄和实际年龄之间的差异是如何演变的。你可能已经预料到,大多数孩子和青少年觉得自己比实际年龄要大。但这种情况在25岁左右就开始转变了,那时人们感觉心理年龄要比实际年龄小。到30岁时,大约70%的人觉得自己比实际年龄要年轻,并且这种差异只会逐渐拉大。正如诺塞克和林德纳在论文中所说,"主观老化似乎发生在火星上,而地球上的10年只相当于火星上的5.3年。"


林德纳和诺瑟克还测量了参与者的"期望年龄"。令他们惊讶的是,期望年龄比主观年龄更小。诺塞克说:"期望年龄一直在增长,只是比我们现在的感觉慢一点。"这点似乎验证了这样一种观点,即"我们的生活体验在不断变好,只是比实际体验慢一点,"他说。并不是说只有一个高峰年龄。同样,这种情况发生在25岁左右:在20多岁的年轻人中,有60%想要变老。但到了26岁时,70%的人会更希望自己年轻一些,从那时起,大多数人都会用最乐观的眼光看待过去。


如果把人们的主观年龄考虑在内,健康干预可能会更有效,让他们感到内心更年轻。

一些心理学家推测,拥有较低的主观年龄是一种自我防卫,保护我们不受消极的年龄刻板印象的影响。德国比勒费尔德大学(Bielefeld University)的科纳德(Anna Kornadt)在一项细致入微的研究中也看到了这一点。


科尔纳德的研究基于这样一种观点,即人们的主观年龄可能是一个多面体,在不同的领域有所不同。例如,你在工作中和在社会关系中的自我感知是有差异的。所以科纳特问参与者,是否在生活的不同方面觉得自己的年龄有所不同。


毫无疑问,她发现,当对年龄的消极成见广为流行的时候,人们的主观年龄就会降低,比如在工作、健康和经济等方面。这似乎支持了这样一种观点,即从心底里觉得自己年轻可以帮助人们远离所在年龄段的消极含义。"我虽然65岁,但我觉得自己只有50岁",这种想法意味着你不用太担心自己在工作中的表现。科纳德还发现,主观年龄较低的人倾向于用更积极的眼光想象未来的自己。


使自己远离社会对衰老的悲观看法,乐观地看待未来——这种自我防御机制反过来可以进一步解释年轻心态对健康的益处。


许多人之所以觉得自己的主观年龄较低,是为了避免受到大众对老年人的负面刻板印象的影响。

虽然已取得了这些进展,科学家们仍只是在研究它们的潜在影响,但未来的干预措施极有可能通过降低参与者的主观年龄来改善他们的健康状况。在现有为数不多的对此议题的研究中,有一项研究表明,如果实验者对同龄人称赞自己的表现,那么处于健身状态的老年人会获得更大的力量提升。


由于主观年龄的预测能力超越了实际年龄,斯蒂芬认为,医生应该询问所有患者的主观年龄,以确定哪些人最有可能在未来出现健康问题,以便更有效地提供医疗保健。


与此同时,这些发现可以让我们更加细致地看待自己的大脑和身体如何经受时间流逝。不管实际年龄有多大,我们都应该质疑是否诸多条条框框的限制来自自己的内心。

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