By Debra Waters
We all know how old we are, but did you know there's a biological age calculator we can use to get an idea of how old our body is?
"We’re used to measuring age chronologically, by counting years since birth, but science tells us that every person ages differently. It depends on the genes that we inherited and our environment and lifestyle," says Gordon Lauc Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Zagreb and co-founder of GlycanAge, a home testing kit that determines the body’s biological age.
"There are always people who look younger or older than their age. However, there’s more to aging than the outside appearance, such as chronic illnesses and inflammation,” explains Gordon. “Biological age is a comprehensive quantitative measure of the individual's inner aging process and a good approximation for overall health. But unlike chronological aging, biological aging can be changed, improved, and even reversed to a point.”
The more we understand our biological age and what affects it, the more we can do to improve it. And, it could be as simple as lacing up your best walking shoes and hitting the trails a few times a week.
What affects our biological age?
Before you use the biological age calculator, consider this—to lower your biological age, you have to improve all aspects of your health and fitness, says fitness expert Sean Lerwill.
"This includes all facets of exercise, including a resistance program that’s routinely changed every few months, cardiovascular training such as running to maintain a strong heart, and holistic training like stretching, yoga and mobility along with mediation and relaxation to lower stress."
Whether you start running with couch to 5k, try yoga for beginners or step out of your comfort zone and try your hand at new gym classes like boxing for women, exercising regularly and being active every day will help lower your biological age.
"Diet also plays a part, so an understanding of healthy and unhealthy foods is vital," advises Sean. "Vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals from fresh vegetables as the main ingredient of meals, plenty of water (800-1000ml of water per kg of body weight is a good guide), a sensible amount of sleep (7-8hrs per night), and an avoidance of what isn’t good for us, including alcohol, caffeine and pharmaceutical and illicit drugs."
But, it's not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to lowering your biological age, says Gordon. While reassessing your lifestyle and focusing on your health and fitness can improve your biological age, it's not all about knowing how to lose belly fat or how to lose a stone in a month—other factors are at play.
"While some lifestyle factors drastically speed up aging, such as increased abdominal fat and smoking, how much weight loss or quitting smoking affects biological age depends on a combination of the person’s genes and environment," says Gordon. "Many tested lifestyle factors that affect aging appear to be highly individual, which points to the need of developing a personalized approach (such as personalized exercises)."
Gordon advises that instead of asking yourself 'what can I do to improve my biological age?', you should instead question 'Is what I'm doing good for me?'.
"While we pursue further research studies to address this, my recommendation is to keep a diary of lifestyle changes and regularly re-measure your biological age to track your progress," Gordon adds.
The biological age calculator
For a reflection of how your body is aging, use this biological age calculator to determine what you need to do to help improve your longevity. Start with your age then answer eight key questions, adding or subtracting years depending on your answers.
1. How's your weight?
- I’m overweight and need to lose a stone or more (+2 years)
- I’m a little overweight—I’d like to lose half a stone (+1 year)
- I’m slim and in the right weight range for my height (-2 years)
- I’m underweight (+1 year)
Why it matters
Excess weight is linked with an increased risk of age-related diseases, from type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure to arthritis. Getting to a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to protect your health, but it can get harder to stay slim once you hit your forties, and your metabolic age can increase due to the menopause as well as the natural aging process.
"You lose muscle mass with age so your metabolic rate can slow,” says nutritionist Rob Hobson.“You need fewer calories than you did in your twenties and thirties.”
2. What's your activity level?
- I do at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week, and some strength training for women (-2 years)
- I don’t do much formal exercise but try to walk as much as I can and fit in a bit of yoga or Pilates for beginners sometimes (no change)
- I do little exercise (+2 years)
Why it matters
Exercise works the heart and lungs, helps control your weight, reduces stress and boosts endorphins for an instant mood lift. The recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week is the minimum we should do, but 40% of those aged 40-60 do less than 10 minutes of brisk walking each month.
Embarking on a new journey into fitness for women over 50 is particularly important. As women enter the menopause and naturally age, they lose bone density and muscle mass. Doing targeted strength-building exercises regularly can help counteract this, whether that's one of the best resistance band workouts, trying a bodyweight workout or taking things up a notch with a kettlebell or dumbells.
3. Which of these best describes your diet most days?
- Balanced, mostly based around fruit and vegetables, with some oily fish, small amounts of meat and very little sugar (-2 years)
- I try to eat well but sometimes reach for junk food when I’m stressed or busy (+1 year)
- My diet’s not all it could be. I have a sweet tooth and live on convenience meals (+2 years)
Why it matters
"A balanced diet gives you all the nutrients you need for overall health," says Rob. "Prepare your meals from scratch wherever possible—convenience foods are often high in sugar, which adds calories, contributing to weight gain, and salt, which is bad news for your blood pressure."
4. Regardless of how much exercise you do, how much do you sit down daily?
- I’m largely sedentary and sit for at least eight hours a day (+2 years)
- I sit for a lot of the day but make an effort to get up and down every hour (no change)
- I’m active. I don’t have a sedentary job (-2 years)
Why it matters
Research conducted by the University of California San Diego found women who were sedentary had shorter telomeres (the caps on the ends of DNA), while longer telomeres are associated with aging better. In fact, sitting for ten hours or more could age you by up to eight years. It’s recommended adults should break up long periods of sitting with some light activity. This could be a simply standing up from your desk and going for a short walk around the office, or doing a quick 15-minute yoga class on your lunch break.
5. Do you smoke?
- No, I never have (-2 years)
- No, but I used to (no change)
- Yes (+2 years)
Why it matters
Smoking is linked with many forms of cancer, skin aging, heart disease and osteoporosis. The good news is, quitting allows your body to start repairing the damage. See your doctor for help or visit NHS Smokefree. Research shows your chances of stopping permanently are much higher if you have support.
6. How's your sleep?
- I get seven or eight hours most nights and wake feeling refreshed (-2 years)
- I get less than six hours (+2 years)
- My sleep’s all over the place. I lie in at weekends but sleep less during the week (+2 years)
Why it matters
"During solid sleep, the body releases substances that play an important role in allowing your immune system to regenerate," says Dr. Jenna Macciochi, lecturer in immunology (biochemistry) at the University of Sussex. Research at the University of Rochester in the US found the brain scours toxins during sleep, lowering the risk of dementia.
Having a solid bedtime routine with lots of wind-down time is key to sleeping better.
7. Are you constantly under stress?
- Yes, but I manage it with meditation, dance classes and chats with friends (no change)
- No, although I have some short-term stress at work from time to time (-1 year)
- Yes and I find it overwhelming and it affects my mood a lot (+2 years)
Why it matters
Short bursts of stress may be quite good for us, giving the immune system a quick boost, says Dr. Macciochi. "But long-term stress raises markers of inflammation in the blood, which lowers immunity, and it encourages unhealthy habits," she explains.
When you're feeling stressed, take time for mindful moments in your day or speak with your loved ones about how you're feeling.
8. How much alcohol do you drink?
- Less than 14 units (one unit = one small glass of wine) a week, with a few alcohol-free days (-1 year)
- I drink every day and have more than 14 units a week (+2 years)
Why it matters
Even if you’re drinking slightly more than you should most days, you’re affecting your liver’s ability to regenerate, which is why booze-free days are so important. Bingeing raises your chance of having a stroke. If alcohol is a concern for you, visit drinkaware for advice.
Alcohol can also make you gain weight. "Any alcohol you drink contributes to fat storage – your body metabolizes it first, leaving food calories to be stored as fat," says Rob.
Now that you’ve completed this biological age calculator is your biological age younger, older, or the same as your chronological age? If it's younger, congratulations but still check it regularly and continue to focus on making healthy lifestyle choices. If it’s the same or older follow the guidelines to see if you can take some years off and feel healthier to boot.
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