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Research & Insights

Is your body older than your actual age?

Ways to get your ‘biological age’ to match your ‘chronological age’.

Stephanie Osfield
November 2017

Did you know that you actually have 2 ages? Your chronological age is calculated in years. Your biological age takes into account different factors that show how fast your body is physically ageing. And while ageing is inevitable, there are some ways you can influence your biological age.

“To determine biological age, we look at more than obvious signs such as wrinkles,” says Dr Lindsay Wu, senior research fellow for the National Health and Medical Research Council.

“We also look at internal markers, such as hormones and inflammatory chemicals, which indicate how fast you’re ageing in parts of your body such as your organs, joints, tissues and cells.”

Why your body ages

While researchers are constantly searching for answers as to how and why our bodies age the way they do, there is widespread consensus that genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors can all play a part in the ageing process.

Unhealthy habits, including smoking, sun exposure and excess alcohol, can accelerate the DNA damage and inflammation that occur with ageing, explains Dr Wu. “Fat cells also release inflammatory chemicals, which means that weight gain and excess kilojoules can make you age much faster.”

It’s believed that DNA naturally gets damaged or less efficient as we get older, in the same way that our skin becomes wrinkled and may become thinner or more fragile as we get older. Some of these changes have been linked to degenerative diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Another developing area of focus for researchers is around the food we eat – specifically foods that contain high levels of chemicals known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These chemicals can fast track the ageing process when they accumulate in the body. Typically, foods posing the greatest AGEs risk are processed, high in sugar and fat and cooked at high temperatures.

Researchers have also found that dry cooking methods, such as grilling and frying, increase the AGEs risk.

“To minimise AGEs, cook vegetables and meat in fluid and marinate meat before cooking on the barbecue,” says Professor Merlin Thomas, senior research fellow at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

Keeping your body biologically young

These healthy habits can help to slow your rate of biological ageing.

  1. Exercise improves your cellular function and biological markers. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is particularly beneficial – it involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief rests.
  2. For the brain, the Mediterranean diet could be beneficial. According to Catherine Itsiopoulos, Professor of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at La Trobe University, “Research suggests the Mediterranean diet increases brain connectivity and cognition and can delay normal brain ageing by 10 years, possibly more. This appears to be due to its high intake of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts.”
  3. De-stressing strategies are also important, as studies show that stressed people have shorter telomeres, indicating a faster rate of ageing. Meditation may be an effective antidote. Groundbreaking research from Massachusetts General Hospital shows that daily meditation can improve the health of the cells’ mitochondria, the all-important structures responsible for energy production.

Testing your biological age

Online genetic testing kits that check markers of ageing can be purchased on the internet, but while they can provide insights, they’re not comprehensive diagnostic tools.

Some gyms also offer tests for other markers of ageing. They look at things like grip strength, VO2 max (maximal oxygen testing during exercise) and bioimpedance analysis (where special scales indicate your body’s level of fat, lean muscle mass and water content, and can help estimate your metabolic rate).

For a more reliable result, Dr Wu suggests asking your GPs about tests that can give clues to your rate of biological ageing. “These tests can assess ageing indicators such as hormone levels, inflammatory chemicals, blood glucose, body mass index [BMI], waist circumference, blood pressure and bone density,” says Dr Wu.

But the simplest place to start may well be asking your GP “Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to improve my health?” in a routine check-up.

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