Cassie Shortsleeve wrote in Silver Sneakers by Trinity Healthy that getting older is inevitable, but feeling older? That’s a different story.
On average, people older than 70 feel 13 years younger than they really are, according to a study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. Among study participants who were particularly healthy and active, the gap between subjective age and actual age was even wider.
But beyond health status—which probably doesn’t surprise you—what other factors can influence our perceived age? To find out, we asked top doctors and the youthful SilverSneakers community to share the habits they’ve found work best for staying strong, sharp, and current as ever.
1. Hang Out with Older and Younger Crowds
Feeling younger starts with seeking out people who are at least a decade your senior—who will expose you to new health behaviors, attitudes, and wisdom—and young children and teenagers, who will remind you what it’s like to see the world through innocent eyes, says Katie Rickel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in Durham, North Carolina. “When we find ourselves only spending time with our peers, we often grow accustomed to the same activities, beliefs, interests, and culture of a single generation.”
2. Embrace Newness and Change
Traveling, ballroom dancing, painting, and volunteering are all some of SilverSneakers community member Joyce Fisher’s hobbies. Her philosophy: “Never say no to (almost) anything.”
Experts agree it’s a good motto. “When we learn a new activity or change up our routine, our brains need to rewire themselves to assimilate the novelty,” Rickel says. New synapses—which neurons use to communicate with one another—form and learn to fire in different patterns, she says. “This phenomenon helps promote brain health and rejuvenation.”
Even small, seemingly unimportant changes, such as driving a different route to the supermarket or reorganizing the cabinets in your kitchen, can make a difference.
3. Never Consider Yourself Old
Your mindset really does matter. It’s something SilverSneakers community member Joan Lochner Klein knows well. “At almost 65, I don’t feel the least bit elderly,” she says. “My mom and all my aunts and grandmothers lived well into their 90s and one to 105—I can’t be old yet.”
SilverSneakers community member Cheri Taylor agrees. “‘Old is 10 years older than I am.’ That’s what my dad always said, and it works for me,” she says.
4. Move as Much as You Can
“Exercise is essentially equal to Ponce De Leon’s fountain of youth,” says Shanna Levine, M.D., an internist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Whether it’s walking, running, swimming, biking, or dancing, physical activity is key.”
Another point of emphasis: Any amount of activity counts, Levine says. Walk around the block, or start a dance party with your grandchildren—it will keep you looking and feeling your best.
5. What Makes You Laugh? Do More of That
SilverSneakers community member Kathleen Strodtbeck says she stays young by surrounding herself with people who like to laugh a lot—and staying away from “drama-prone individuals.”
While more research is needed on the value of avoiding drama, there’s proof on the health benefits of laughter. Studies have linked laughter to everything from lower stress levels to stronger immunity to a more active social life.
6. Fill Up Your Calendar
“My most lively older patients all engage in social activities,” says Levine, adding that keeping your mind active and engaged has been shown to slow aging. Pick whatever makes you happy, from attending a group fitness class to a picnic in the park with your family. The type of activity doesn’t matter as much as simply having something on your schedule, Levine says.
Start by making plans with your family and friends. You can also look for opportunities to connectat your community center or church, or with people of similar interests on meetup.com. Another great idea: Grab coffee or make brunch plans with SilverSneakers friends.
7. Do Something Simply Because It’s Fun
Ever since her knee replacement three years ago, SilverSneakers community member Ellen Krzeminski Williams has started a new routine: “Drop everything and dance each time a Motown song comes on the oldies station,” she says. “It’s fun!”
Get more tips for staying young—or share yours—at facebook.com/silversneakers.com.