Does Looking Younger Mean a Longer Life?

Do people assume your little sister is older than you are? Are you asked for ID when you order a drink in a bar even though you're well past 21? Are you routinely turned down for senior discounts even though you've hit the magic age that entitles you to them? Lucky you! Thanks to a combination of good genetics and probably lifestyle choices, you're youthful looking. But did you know that the benefits of looking young go beyond the pleasure of having people admire your appearance? Recent research shows that looking young actually may be linked with living longer.

It's not that a young face causes you to age more slowly. Rather, research is finding that people who are biologically young-that is, whose cells function at a level similar to those of younger people-tend to appear younger than they are. In one study conducted at the University of Southern Denmark, more than 1,800 pairs of twins who were at least 70 years old took a host of physical and mental tests and had their faces photographed. Three different groups of raters of all ages and backgrounds were asked to look at the twins' faces and judge how old they were. Over the next seven years, records were kept indicating when each twin died. The findings? The twins who were perceived as older than their siblings tended to die first, and the older they looked compared to their siblings the earlier they tended to die. The background, age and sex of the raters did not seem to have an effect on how old they perceived the twins to be. The age judgments were consistent across all groups of raters.

Adding weight to the theory that looking young equals living longer, the younger-looking twins who outlived their siblings tended to perform better on physical and cognitive tests than their siblings did. But the scientists didn't just rely on these results to explain the correlation. They also turned their attention to the twins' telomeres as one of the important markers of biological age. Telomeres are DNA sequences located at the ends of chromosomes. As cells age, telomeres shorten due to cell division. But people who live longer tend to have longer telomeres. The Danish study indeed showed that the twins who were rated as younger looking than their siblings had longer telomeres than their brothers and sisters did. Scientists claim that in the not too distant future, we may have our telomere length assessed as a way to predict our longevity.


Sources: British Medical Journal,