Older people feel more youthful when they also feel in control

Older adults may feel younger than their age on days when they feel most in control of their lives, a small study suggests.

People who believe they can influence the outcomes and events in their daily lives generally do feel a greater sense of control than those who feel more helpless, and previous research has linked a strong sense of control to better wellbeing, researchers note in Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

Past research hasn’t offered a clear picture of how day-to-day variation in people’s sense of control might be tied to shifts in how they perceive their own age and wellbeing, however.

For the current study, researchers had 116 older adults, ages 60 to 90, and 107 younger adults, ages 18 to 36, fill out daily surveys for eight consecutive days. Researchers asked participants questions about their daily stresses, physical health, sense of control over their daily lives and how old they “felt.”

Among younger adults, feeling in more control on any given day didn’t appear to make them feel more youthful. But they did report feeling younger than their chronological age on days when they had low levels of stress and few or no health complaints.

With older adults, the picture was different. They typically felt about two to four years younger on days when they felt more in control than usual.

“Control beliefs can function as an important resource that supports individuals in pursuing their goals - believing that you can accomplish a task helps you to actually get the job done,” said study co-author Jennifer Bellingtier of Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany.

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