Older adults feel younger when they feel that they have more control over their daily lives, regardless of stress or health concerns, suggests new research.
However, stress and health — not a sense of control — play a significant role in how old younger adults feel, said the study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.
“The more control older adults think they have, the younger they feel,” said study co-author Shevaun Neupert, Professor at North Carolina State University in the US.
For this study, the researchers had 116 older adults (ages 60-90) and 107 younger adults (ages 18-36) fill out a daily survey for eight consecutive days. Study participants were asked questions aimed at assessing their daily stresses, physical health, sense of control over their daily lives, and how old they felt.
“Everyone’s sense of control fluctuates from day to day, or even over the course of a day — that’s normal,” Neupert said.
“We found that when older adults felt more in control, they also felt younger. That was true even when accounting for stress and physical health.”
However, an individual’s sense of control had no bearing on self-perceptions of age for young adults. But stress and adverse changes in health did make young people feel older.
Leaving school and getting a job both lead to a drop in the amount of physical activity and may lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, while becoming a mother is linked to increased weight gain, researchers have found.
Many people tend to put on weight as they leave adolescence and move into adulthood and this is the age when the levels of obesity increase the fastest, the study said.
This weight gain is related to changes in diet and physical activity behaviour across the life events of early adulthood, including the move from school to further education and employment, starting new relationships and having children.
“This evidence suggests that the pressures of university, employment and childcare drive changes in behaviour which are likely to be bad for long-term health,” said study researcher Eleanor Winpenny from University of Cambridge in the US.
For the study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, researchers looked at changes in physical activity, diet and body weight as young adults move from education into employment and to becoming a parent.
To do this, they carried out systematic reviews and meta-analyses of existing scientific literature.
In the first of the two studies, the research team looked at the evidence relating to the transition from high school into higher education or employment and how this affects body weight, diet and physical activity.
In total, they found 19 studies covering ages 15-35 years, of which 17 assessed changes in physical activity, three body weight, and five diet or eating behaviours.
The team found that leaving high school was associated with a decrease of seven minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
The decrease was larger for males than it was for females (a decrease of 16.4 minutes per day for men compared to 6.7 minutes per day for women).
More detailed analysis revealed that the change is largest when people go to university, with overall levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity falling by 11.4 minutes per day.
In the second study, the team looked at the impact of becoming a parent on weight, diet and physical activity.
A meta-analysis of six studies found the difference in change in body mass index (BMI) between remaining without children and becoming a parent was 17 per cent: a woman of average height (164 cm) who had no children gained around 7.5 kg over five to six years, while a mother of the same height would gain an additional 1.3 kg.