How old is ‘old’? The answer may depend on how much you worry about it

Whether you stress about old age may have the biggest impact on your health.

Old age, Aging, Seniors, Black health and wellness, anti-aging industry, anti-aging stress, chronic health conditions, loneliness,
Perceptions of old age may change as populations grow older. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

When do we start getting old? The answer to this question may not just depend on who you ask but when you ask.

For instance, according to a new study published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychology and Aging journal, folks in their mid-60s largely view old age as beginning in the mid-70s.

The study looked at data collected from roughly 14,000 participants in the German Aging Survey, which studies old age as a stage of life in Germany. The participants were born between 1911 and 1974 and spanned ages 40 to 85 when they entered the study. Researchers collected participants’ insights on old age up to eight times over a 25-year span. They found that every four or five years, the participants consistently reported that old age started a year later each time.

“Our perceptions or conceptions of old age are obviously shifting across historical time. People nowadays who are in midlife or who are older adults believe that old age begins later than did their peers 10 or 20 years ago,” Markus Wettstein, the study’s lead author and a psychologist at the Humboldt University of Berlin, told NBC.

Researchers also observed that participants who were born from 1911 to 1935 thought that old age started earlier compared to participants born after 1935.

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They also found differences across gender. Women, on average, thought that old age started around 2.4 years later than men did. There were also nuances observed depending on life circumstances. Participants who suffered from loneliness or chronic health issues were also more likely to report old age started earlier. 

“People who feel younger also believe that old age starts later,” Wettstein said to NBC.

As life expectancy, which currently averages age 71 globally and roughly 76 in America, continues to increase, aging populations continue to grapple with the concept of growing older in a variety of ways, with many seeking to prolong reaching — or at least, feeling — old-aged, either by biology-hacking or beauty interventions.

National Geographic magazine reported that the anti-aging industry, already valued at $40 billion, is expected to reach $61 billion by 2032.

“People postpone old age as they do not want to enter this rather undesirable life phase,” Wettstein and his colleagues told National Geographic.

As some reach for their creams and serums, others lean in and embrace the inevitable changes that come with aging; a method that may result in favorable health outcomes, according to the study.

Researchers have found that those with a more positive attitude towards aging tend to harbor less stress — and in turn, develop less chronic conditions of aging like heart disease and dementia, per NBC. Meanwhile, those who stress about getting older were found to have more to worry about.