Elderly people say they feel much less tired than teenagers and younger adults, according to a surprising new study that tracked how nearly 13,000 Americans rated their exhaustion.
The results counter earlier studies and defy stereotypes of older people as weak and tired, said Laura Kudrna, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
What’s even more surprising, she said, is that the unexpected results can’t be explained away by elderly people sleeping longer or doing fewer activities they find tiring.
“There’s something else going on here,” Kudrna wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times.
Kudrna and a fellow researcher analyzed answers from the 2010 American Time Use Survey, a nationally representative survey sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that included nearly 13,000 U.S. residents. Earlier rounds of the survey explored how Americans spent their time, but the 2010 survey was the first to ask how people felt during different activities.
Each person filled out a diary of what they did the previous day and how they felt about some of their activities. They rated how tired they felt while doing those activities on a scale of 0 to 6.
Remarkably, Americans ages 65 and older reported being less tired than older teens and young 20-somethings, pegging themselves almost one point lower on the tiredness scale. Tiredness dropped off after the age of 40 and continued to decrease with age, Kudrna said.
The results were controlled for how healthy people thought they were and other background characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, number of children and how much people slept. Researchers also factored in how much of the day was spent doing tiring activities.
So why might older people report feeling less tired than teens, 20-somethings and other adults? Kudrna wonders if technology might be making younger people feel more tired, or if other, untracked health factors are influencing the results.
The bottom line, however, is that “we don’t know,” Kudrna said. “And I’d love to find out.”
The study, recently published online in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, urged more research to understand the unexpected results.