Act Young To Live Long

People often think I look younger than I am; I usually quip that is because I cultivate an aura of irresponsibility. Turns out, I may actually live longer because I look and act younger. Apparently, thinking of yourself as younger actually makes you live longer:

First, women who think they look younger after having their hair colored/cut show a decrease in blood pressure and appear younger in photographs (in which their hair is cropped out) to independent raters. Second, clothing is an age-related cue. Uniforms eliminate these age-related cues: Those who wear work uniforms have lower morbidity than do those who earn the same amount of money and do not wear work uniforms. Third, baldness cues old age. Men who bald prematurely see an older self and therefore age faster: Prematurely bald men have an excess risk of getting prostate cancer and coronary heart disease than do men who do not prematurely bald. Fourth, women who bear children later in life are surrounded by younger age-related cues: Older mothers have a longer life expectancy than do women who bear children earlier in life. Last, large spousal age differences result in age-incongruent cues: Younger spouses live shorter lives and older spouses live longer lives than do controls. (more)

The paper speculates that this might contribute to rising lifespans – are we overall healthier today because overall we look and act younger than our ancestors? More quotes:

People who earn less than $24,916 per year and who wear work uniforms (e.g., waiters, waitresses) tend to have poorer health (higher morbidity) than do people who earn less than $24,916 per year and who do not wear work uniforms (e.g., street and door-to-door sales workers). …. Individuals who earned more than $24,916 per year and who did not wear work uniforms (e.g., engineers) had poorer health than did their uniformed counterparts (e.g., chemists). … People of low socioeconomic status who wear uniforms may experience less job control (as rated by the employee) than those who do not wear uniforms. Wearing a uniform may be seen as a way of being controlled, which may override any effect the age cue could or could not have. In contrast, uniforms worn by people with higher earning potential may be seen more as a status symbol (e.g., doctors) compared with uniforms worn by people with lower incomes (e.g., janitors). …

The amount of progression of baldness was associated with coronary heart occurrence (risk rate = 2.4), coronary heart disease mortality (risk = 3.8), and all-cause mortality (risk = 2.4). … The optimal age at first birth for mothers’ long-run health occurs about … the age of 34 years. … Representing fluctuation from the base rate of 100, the [standard mortality ratio] was only 84 for wives with husbands 4–14 years younger, whereas it was 125 for women married to older men up to 14 years their senior. …

People are getting married and having children later, and more adults are going into higher education. Therefore, age norms are starting to change or are, at least, extending in accordance with societal trends. These changes may lead to changes in age-related cues, which may, in turn, affect health outcomes.

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  • Max M

    Japanese women are world-renowned for acting (and dressing, talking) as if they were prepubescent… So one would expect, given this theory, they’d also live a nice long time, perhaps the longest.

    Lo and behold, wikipedia confirms the theory @ 86.1 years.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy

    • http://www.gwern.net gwern

      Causality is wrong; they act/dress/talk like that in part *because* they age so well that they live so long.

      Japanese women (and Japanese in general) have been long-lived for many decades, while that acting/dressing/talking is a relatively modern phenomenon. (Try watching movies from various decades; there is no such phenomenon back in the 1950s, much less the Edo period.) Further example: Okinawan women had even higher life expectancies*, Okinawa being #1 in Japan for longevity, yet they dress quite dowdily.

      * googling it, I find that this may be a thing of the past, ironically thanks to America: http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-04-04/news/17420824_1_urasoe-japan-naha-okinawa

  • http://www.gwern.net gwern

    “They agreed to live in our time capsule house for a week, during which they dressed in 1970s clothes, slept in replicas of their very own 70s bedrooms, watched television from that era, and talked about 1975 in the present tense.
    >
    > …We took Dickie Bird back to Lords to relive the atmosphere. As he walked through the tunnel, onto the grounds, he blossomed before our eyes. Dickie had had a stroke, suffered 18 months of illness, lost confidence and come to think of himself as old. By the end of the week, his confidence was back and he showed remarkable improvement across a range of tests, including memory and stamina.
    >
    > …Our volunteers were actors Liz Smith (88), Sylvia Syms (76) and Lionel Blair (78), cricket umpire Dickie Bird (77), newsreader Kenneth Kendall (86) and former Daily Mirror editor Derek Jameson (80).”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11284180

    • http://www.gwern.net gwern

      Er, last quote was supposed to be

      > At the end of the week we put our guinea pigs through the same rigorous battery of physical and psychological tests we had at the beginning. Memory, mood, flexibility, stamina and even eye sight had improved in almost all of them. The results were not uniform, but in some cases they shed up to 20 years in their apparent biological age.

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com agnostic

    Any experimental evidence on balding men who wear a hairpiece? The story here says it should make them healthier, but the quotes don’t say whether they tested this easy prediction.

    As for uniforms, that’s a conflation with egalitarianism within their workplace. Low-status people who wear uniforms have it forced on them, a reminder of inequality within the workplace, whereas high-status people who wear uniforms have adopted them voluntarily to signal that we’re all in it together, a reminder of equality.

  • Doug S.

    Prematurely bald men have an excess risk of getting prostate cancer and coronary heart disease than do men who do not prematurely bald.

    This is because both baldness and prostate cancer can have a common cause: the hormone dihydrotesosterone. The drug finasteride, better known by its brand name, Propecia, treats both baldness and enlarged prostate by inhibiting the production of dihydrotestosterone.

    I do not know what effect “acting young” has on dihydrotestosterone.

    • http://retiredurologist.com retired urologist

      Do you have a erudite reference for the claim that DHT causes prostate cancer? It surely accelerates the growth of prostate cancer in most cases, but i’m not familiar with any agreement that it is a cause. Without doubt it accelerates benign prostate growth as well, and is the cause of male-pattern baldness. But probably it’s most dangerous effect is that of causing male puberty.

  • Robert Koslover

    The “Up with People” folks had this all figured out back in the 1960s. Just play the song at:
    http://www.we7.com/#/song/Up-with-People/Keep-Young-At-Heart

    🙂

  • Robert Wiblin

    “Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest.”

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I would expect boatloads of correlated factors which may be adding causality for these measures.

    Robert Wiblin, birthdays are also bad for you. The more of them you’ve had, the shorter your expected remaining lifespan.

    Robin previously suggested his dashing good looks are responsible for some of his success as an academic.

    • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

      New highwater mark of snark+wayback machine for you.

  • William H. Stoddard

    This all sounds oddly like the premise of Bernard Shaw’s classic sf play “Back to Methuselah.”

  • http://gworley3.blogspot.com/ Gordon Worley

    What I find interesting is that, if causality holds, then the effect should be eliminated once societal norms change. It’s only by acting against a norm that you get the effect.

  • V.G.

    Karl Lagerfeld says that wearing sunglasses makes you look younger. Any research on that?

    • Mitchell Porter

      Also, if you wear your sunglasses at night, you’re at less risk from skin cancer.

  • http://danieltarmac.blogspot.com Henry

    I’m 21 but a small sample size says I look 16-17. I don’t think I should be leaping for joy at this.

  • John Faben

    I’m willing to bet quite a lot that older mothers are, on average, a lot richer than younger mothers. Does the paper correct for this?

  • John Faben

    Actually, more to the point, older mothers are *older* than younger mothers – please tell me they managed to at least correct for this?

  • IVV

    Or, it could be that we’re all in the “Kick the Can” episode of the Twilight Zone.

  • http://graehl.posterous.com Jonathan Graehl

    The comments have effectively killed the mood for me (Gwern excepted). It’s hard to believe there’s anything here. The study authors are either incompetent at, or biased against, imagining causes that explain away the correlations they discover. Their thesis is plausible, mostly because of Langer (see Gwern’s excerpt). Avoid dwelling on my physical decline? Sure, why not. Act ‘young’? Sure, why not.

    @John Faben, the study controls for moms’ education but not wealth (hopefully older people have higher incomes and savings). Whether some of the younger mothers died young is irrelevant, because the two groups are women who survived to 100, and women who survived to 73. Within the first group, there were far more women who had a child (or a first child) late, e.g. in their early 40s. As with all the evidence in this paper, they attach highly speculative interpretations to it.

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  • Phil Goetz

    “Third, baldness cues old age. Men who bald prematurely see an older self and therefore age faster: Prematurely bald men have an excess risk of getting prostate cancer and coronary heart disease than do men who do not prematurely bald.”

    This is a ridiculous jump from correlation to causality. Men who bald prematurely have at least one accelerated aging process! AND, they are likely to have high testosterone, and thus have higher chances of prostate cancer.

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  • http://blog.healthgenie.in Sphria Choubey

    People who live to 95 or older are no more virtuous than the rest of us in terms of their diet, exercise routine or smoking and drinking habits, according to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University…”This study suggests that centenarians may possess additional longevity genes that help to buffer them against the harmful effects of an unhealthy lifestyle.”
    -Eureka Alert