Could Acting Like A Grown Up Give You Wrinkles?

Why does it seem that some people just don’t age as fast as others? Maybe you could have sworn that the girl at the hostel you met overseas was 22 years old until you discovered that she was nearing her 33rd birthday. Or you might have assumed that the young artist at his exhibition that you visited is actually not a young artist at all but he’s five years older than you? There seems to be some kind of pattern for people who live more carefree and youthfully that appear to all age very well.

As we become adults from our childhood and youth, we tend to take on a lot of stresses and responsibilities. What if there was a way that we could remove these avoidable stresses, act youthfully as though we are young and it would make us age slower?

Some people are just plain lucky and age slower than others, but could living a youthful life, removing stresses and acting carefree impact the speed at which we age? We asked Dr Jo Mitchell, a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of The Mindroom, which is a health, wellbeing, and performance psychology community that focuses on mindfulness and wellbeing science to help people live a healthy and fulfilling life.

The Cusp: It seems that adults who tend to live more carefree and youthful lives are the ones that appear to be a lot younger in age. Can you tell us whether it’s possible that maturing psychologically can mature you physiologically?

Dr Jo: I think part of it has to do with living more mindfully, and being present in the way that you’re living which things like travel, doing what you love to do and also being in new environments and nature might be a part of this. All of these things create a more mindful existence and what we know related to mindfulness and meditation or living more mindfully is that it has an impact on our telomeres. If you think of your genes and at the end of your genes it’s a bit like the cap on the end of a shoelace, the end is called a telomere, which is an indicator of ageing.

As we age it gets shorter and what we find with people who are more mindful, telomeres actually don’t shorten at the same rate as those who don’t live in those mindful ways. So if we think right down to that genetic level, maybe people living that kind of lifestyle are actually producing more of the enzymes that prevent their telomeres degrading quite the same way as people living in a high stress environment.

There’s a book out at the moment by Elizabeth Blackburn who is an Australian researcher who has done a lot of work in the United States and she did a lot of the original research back in the 1970s that identified telomeres and their role in ageing. She has a book out at the moment called ‘The Story of Telomeres’ that talks to a lot of this idea.

So let’s compare a youthful life to a non-youthful life. When you’re young you obviously don’t have a lot of the same stresses or responsibilities as you do when you’re an adult. So what kinds of things can we try to avoid that are a part of no longer being a child to make sure we can avoid these stresses that lead to fast ageing?

I think stress is perspective; so keeping things in perspective. One of the things we stop doing as we get older is playing- we seem to leave that as the preserve of kids or young people, so bringing the ‘play’ back into your everyday life. Being grateful and having gratitude for what you do have rather than being caught up in worrying what you don’t have or trying to solve your problems is probably going to contribute to that as well.

I think play, gratitude, being more mindful and shifting your perspective are the most important things. I think a lot of the stress that we have are created- it’s not necessary stress that our bodies are designed for.

And in terms of acting a more youthful life, what kinds of activities can we get involved with to reduce ageing? Would you say things like meditation, travel, yoga and those sorts of mindful experiences?

Absolutely! Anything that activates your sense of curiosity. So being curious and I think it’s going to be different for different people so what is it that you’re interested in? For some people that might be sporting endeavours, it might be more artistic or creative and for others it might be about travelling. But find a thing that sits with your values, your interests and your curiosity and pursue that.

Dr Jo is on the board of Actions for Happiness Australia– a non-for-profit movement that is about getting people to take daily actions to live well. They have great resources on the actions and strategies you can take to move your body, keep learning, be grateful and more.

Sam is a freelance writer passionate about sub-cultures, oddballs of the world and music. She runs a Melbourne music website and writers banter for VICE, The LAD Bible, and other websites. You can find her on Twitter at @hamsoward.