How old are you really?

Happy senior couple in car with man on driver's seat iStockphoto

While our chronological age is certainly one measure of how old we are, there are better perspectives that can drive our actions in healthy directions. It turns out there could be several good answers to the question "How old are you?"

First, let's look at your physical health. Drs. Mike Roizen and Mehmet Oz contend that your lifestyle and the condition of your body can give a more accurate reading of how old you are. They created the website realage.com, where you answer questions about your lifestyle and family history, and the website tells you your "real age"; that is, it estimates how much younger - or older - your biological age is compared to your chronological age. It then offers suggestions for action steps you can take to improve your biological age.

If you take care of yourself, your biological age could be many years younger than your chronological age. I'd bet you know people whose health and vitality make them look younger than their years. Of course, this concept can also go in the other direction: Let your health go, and you might be a few years closer to the pearly gates than you'd like.

I'd encourage you to use the website to determine your real age -- the results can be fascinating. I liked the results my wife and I got -- since we take care of ourselves, my biological age is 10 years younger than my chronological age and my wife's is 11 years younger. This helps put some spring in our steps as we take our daily walk.

Next, how old do you feel emotionally? My good friend and writer Dinah Berland recently posed this question in a delightful article, Forget Chronology: What Age Are You Really?, on the Huffington Post. She summarized the responses of several of her post-50 friends. Here were some of their answers:

- "I'm 63, but I feel like I'm 5."

- "Age 39 - that's when I found myself and started doing what really resonated with me."

- "Emotionally, sometimes I'm 7; physically, about 35; creatively, about 50 -- but that all varies a lot during the day. And night."

- "I feel like 100 even though I'm 51 - I'm going through a divorce."

- "I feel ageless."

This thought-provoking article discussed the reasons why her different friends felt younger or older than their chronological ages. So how old do you feel? Dinah posed this question to her readers; I encourage you to read her readers' responses and even post your own answer.

Finally, I'd like to introduce the concept of your "financial age," which relates to how you deal with money. While it's desirable to have your biological age be less than your chronological age, when it comes to your financial age, it's better to be older and wiser. You don't want to spend money like you're five years old, or even 25 years old, do you?

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you determine your financial age, or just how wise and mature you are with your finances:

- Do you use money just to meet your realistic needs and attain important life goals, or do you buy things to impress others?

- Do you live within your means and save a dedicated amount each month, or do you give in to impulse or unnecessary high-end buying?

- Are you able to delay gratification when there's a significant payoff, such as postponing Social Security to increase your potential lifetime payout or being responsible with drawing down your retirement savings?

- Do you accept responsibility for your financial well-being by trying to learn as much as possible to make smart choices regarding investing and drawing down your retirement savings, claiming Social Security benefits, and paying for medical and long-term care expenses? Or do you blame others for your challenges, hide from making tough choices, and hope that somebody else will bail you out if you run out of money?

- Have you taken the time to prepare a thoughtful investment strategy and then stick to it even when times get tough, or do you give in to fear or greed and buy high and sell low?

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So how old are you really? I'd encourage you to think about your answers regarding your biological age, your emotional age, and your financial age. If you don't like the answers you get, take action steps to bring yourself into balance.

There are a lot of things you do now to be healthy, wealthy, and wise when you reach your 80s and 90s. Today is a great time to start.

  • Steve Vernon On Twitter»

    View all articles by Steve Vernon on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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