New research, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, has shown a link between how old a person looks (their perceived age) and their risk of age-related health issues, including cognitive decline, suggesting that as our bodies and minds age this is reflected on our faces.
The study saw an independent panel estimate the ages of 2,679 predominantly north-western European men and women (with an average age of 65.8 years), based off high resolution images, both front-on and side profile.
Each image was scored by 27 assessors on average, and the perceived age of the participants was scored by taking the difference between their actual age and the age guessed by the independent panel. For example, somebody with a perceived age score of seven looks seven years younger than their actual chronological age; the higher the perceived age score, the younger the person looks.
Looking younger was linked with higher cognitive function and a lower risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (even after adjusting for smoking status and pack-years), osteoporosis, cataracts, and age-related hearing loss.
The youngest-looking group was estimated to be on average five years younger than their real age, and was predominantly male (61%), less often a smoker, and had the highest BMI (probably due to the filler effect of facial fat).
The research's lead author, Professor Tamar Nijsten, of the Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam, said, "This research builds on previous studies looking at how visible age can predict health outcomes. We specifically investigated the link between looking young and various common age-associated health issues and found that youthful looks are linked with lower measures of systemic ageing. In other words, if you look younger than you are, then the health of your organ systems, body and mind are likely to reflect this.
“Although this study didn’t examine specifically why this is, it is likely that factors which cause changes to tissue structures in the face which make us look older, such as the reduction of subcutaneous fat and the development of wrinkles, also impact tissue at other sites around the body and are linked to corresponding changes in bone density.
“This is not a definitive study, but it is probably the best study so far providing evidence that perceived age also reflects internal ageing. The study clearly demonstrates that something is going on, likely on a biological level and beyond the usual lifestyle factors such as UV exposure or smoking.”
The British Association of Dermatologists's Matthew Gass added, "This study makes a strong case that looking young is not just a matter of vanity, it can be a tell-tale sign of the underlying state of one’s health.
“While some factors which contribute to looking older relate to our environment and lifestyles, sun exposure and smoking being the most obvious, some are just down to the natural ageing process. In some cases, the link between looking younger and certain health conditions will likely be a combination of external factors and natural ageing."
What do you make of the study? Let us know in the comments...
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