Researchers have carried out a very interesting study into biological aging. Your biological age is a measure of how well your body is progressing physiologically, and is calculated by reference to
your physical and mental condition. Your chronological age, on the other hand, is your calendar age, which is based solely on your date of birth.
Researchers took 954 young adults and calculated their ‘biological age’ using an algorithm from the US National Health and Nutrition Survey. They then looked at how fast their various organ systems had deteriorated over the previous 12 years (lungs, heart, kidney, liver, teeth, and immune system) to determine the pace at which they were aging. Finally, they looked at whether those with a more advanced biological age had a greater decline in physical and mental function at age 38 years than those with a younger biological age.
The results of the study were quite amazing. Here are the highlights:
- Even though all participants were 38 years old at the time of the last assessment, their biological ages ranged from 28 to 61 years.
- The pace at which they were aging ranged from 0 years of physiological change for every chronological year to almost 3 years of physiological change for every chronological year.
- Those with a higher biological age:
- Had a faster pace of aging over the previous 12 years,
- Were less physically able at the age of 38,
- Had poorer cognitive functioning and increased cognitive decline,
- Considered themselves to be in poorer health, and
- Looked older to objective observers
than their biologically younger peers.
I find the idea that a 38 year old could have a biological age of 61 years quite alarming. Could you be older than you think? Although there is nothing you can do to slow down your chronological age, there are ways in which you can help keep your biological age down. Here are some of the best ways to keep yourself biologically young:
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, and low in sodium, sugar, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods.
- Exercise regularly, both cardio and strength training. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Find ways to keep your stress level down. You could try meditation, yoga, massage, hiking, laughing with friends, a hot bath, or anything else that helps you relax.
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Do not smoke.
By eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and treating your body with kindness, you can keep your biological age low and extend your healthspan.
Belskya, D. W., Caspi, A., Houts, R., Cohen, H. J., Corcoran, D. L., Danese, A., … & Moffitt, T. E. (2015). Quantification of biological aging in young adults. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1506264112
There were three areas I expected to see covered that weren’t addressed in this study:
– Where were the links back to all of the measurements and predictions researchers made at the beginning of the study when these subjects were age 3? Other studies of these same subjects made such links, but it appears that only the cognitive testing link was made in this study. Are we really supposed to believe here in 2015 that scientists can’t determine any early-life causes for these dramatic later-life effects?
– Where were the psychological tests? Are we also to believe that the subjects’ states of mind had nothing to do with their physical measurements?
– I didn’t see any effort to use newer measures such as using the degree of epigenetic DNA methylation as a proxy to measure biological age. I would expect that these subjects’ historical tissue samples may have been available. The reviewer certainly was familiar with newer measures.
Thank you for your great comment. I agree that there were limitations with this study. However, it does provide a good starting point to encourage healthspan extension researchers to start focusing on younger people, and not just focus on extending the healthspan of the older population once disease has already started to set in.