Do you know your biological age? While you may have started to think about health in terms of your chronological age—like exercising more to increase bone strength and eating for a youthful glow—this other type of age could give you a better guide about how well you're doing in terms of diet and fitness. What's more, it's got little to do with how you look on the outside, and a lot more to do with what's going on inside your body.
When it comes to our health, we focus so much on our age as if it's the biggest indicator of how we should be. But as everybody is different, every body is going to respond differently to growing older depending on a whole number of factors that have way more to do with the life you've lived rather than what you're up to now.
As well as helping to understand how healthy you are today, knowing your biological age can also help if you're wondering about how to make new changes to your lifestyle. Whether it's learning how to lose weight in a week or combating symptoms of menopause, we explain how your biological age will impact the moves you make, as well as how to calculate it using our handy questionnaire. To help with any improvements, we've called on the experts to explain the best ways to bring the number down. And, the good news is it could be as simple as following one of the newest wellness trends for 2022.
What is our biological age?
As you've probably guessed, it differs from the number of candles on your last birthday cake. "It depends on the genes that we inherited and our environment and lifestyle", says Gordon Lauc, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Zagreb and co-founder of GlycanAge, (opens in new tab) a home testing kit that determines the body’s biological age. "We’re used to measuring age chronologically, by counting years since birth, but science tells us that every person ages differently,"
What's more, it's most definitely not down to whether you've managed to keep wrinkles at bay by using the best facial sunscreens every day. "There are always people who look younger or older than their age," explains Lauc. "However, there’s more to aging than the outside appearance, such as chronic illnesses and inflammation. Biological age is a comprehensive quantitative measure of the individual's inner aging process and a good approximation for overall health."
But there's good news. "Unlike chronological aging, biological aging can be changed, improved, and even reversed to a point,” he adds.
What affects our biological age?
Your biological age is influenced by your lifestyle, including your fitness levels and nutrition, so lowering it will require improving all aspects of your health. "This includes all facets of exercise, like following a strength training 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," says physical training instructor Sean Lerwill (opens in new tab). Indeed, keeping levels of the stress hormone cortisol to a minimum through yoga for beginners will also help ward off premature aging, according to research (opens in new tab).
What you eat matters too. "Diet also plays a part, so an understanding of healthy and unhealthy foods is vital," explains Lerwill. "Vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals from fresh vegetables as the main ingredient of meals, and plenty of water—800-1000ml of water per kg of body weight is a good guide. Limiting alcohol and caffeine will be beneficial too."
On top of this, building a suitable bedtime routine for you is important, as Lerwill adds that a sensible amount of sleep is usually seven to eight hours per night.
But it's not one-size-fits-all when it comes to lowering your biological age, notes Gordon Lauc. "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," he explains.
"Many tested lifestyle factors that affect aging appear to be highly individual, which points to the need of developing a personalized approach, like personalized exercises." More scientific research is needed to address this, so in the meantime, he recommends keeping a diary of lifestyle changes and regularly re-measuring your biological age to track your progress.
The biological age calculator
Use our biological age calculator to work out how well your body is aging, and if your lifestyle needs a healthy overhaul. Start with your actual age, then answer the following 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 to an increased risk of age-related diseases, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and 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 40s, due to hormonal changes as you start to experience symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
"You lose muscle mass with age, so your metabolic rate can slow,” says nutritionist Rob Hobson (opens in new tab). “This means you need fewer calories than you did in your twenties and thirties.” It is why resistance training, which keeps muscle mass up, is crucial for women as they get older. It can also be helpful to calculate your metabolic age to see how efficiently you're burning calories and get into a calorie deficit to lose weight if need be.
2. What's your activity level?
- I do at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week, and some strength training (-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. When it comes to how much exercise to do per week, the recommended is 150 minutes a week. It's estimated that a worrying 40% of those aged 40 to 60 years old currently do fewer than 10 minutes of brisk walking each month though.
Embarking on a new journey into fitness for women over 50 is particularly important. The arrival of menopause causes a gradual loss of bone density and muscle mass, which can lead to dangerous conditions like osteoporosis. Doing targeted strength-building exercises regularly can help counteract this as it puts muscle and bone under enough pressure to force muscle fibers to grow.
You don't have to take on a huge challenge to make this change, or even join a gym, just starting off with one of the best resistance band workouts, using your body weight, a kettlebell or one of the best dumbells is a good place to start.
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 is 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 Hobson. "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." If you're having trouble keeping the balance, try the 80/20 diet rule as you'll have to swap out some foods for those higher in key nutrients.
In terms of more specific foods to add to your shopping list, research from Dessau Medical Center (opens in new tab) has found that eating lots of fruit and vegetables is linked with giving your complexion a youthful boost. Groceries particularly rich in anti-aging nutrients include watercress, spinach, papaya, broccoli, and avocado.
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:
Further research conducted by the University of California San Diego (opens in new tab) has found women who are sedentary have 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 daily 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 simply standing up from your desk and going for a short walk around the office or doing a quick 15-minute yoga session 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 (opens in new tab). Research from Stirling University (opens in new tab)among others shows your chances of stopping permanently are much higher if you have support—so as well as reaching out to medical professionals, call on family and friends for encouragement.
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 is 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 (opens in new tab), lecturer in immunology at the University of Sussex. These substances enhance the ability of our T cells to stick to and destroy cells that are infected with viruses and other pathogens.
What's more, studies by the University of Rochester (opens in new tab) in the US found the brain scours toxins during sleep, lowering the risk of dementia.
However, getting enough quality snooze time can be easier said than done. As well as easing sleep anxiety by sticking to a regular sleep schedule and mastering how to fall asleep fast so you can get enough hours in, you could try one of these best sleep aids to ensure you remain in deep slumber through the night.
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.
Learning how to deal with stress is easier said than done, especially if you're under lots of pressure in different areas of your life. But to reduce your biological age, try to take time for mindful moments in your day, or speak to your loved ones about how you're feeling. To lower levels of cortisol before going to sleep, you could also try one of the best meditation apps.
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:
Drinking even a little more than you should most days could affect your body's ability to regenerate. Bingeing raises your chance of having a stroke, and excessive consumption of alcohol can also lead you to gain weight. "Any alcohol you drink contributes to fat storage—your body metabolizes it first, leaving food calories to be stored as fat," explains Hobson.
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, that's great, 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.
Debra Waters is an experienced online editor and lifestyle writer with a focus on health, wellbeing, beauty, food and parenting. Currently, she writes for the websites and Woman&Home and GoodtoKnow, as well as the Woman, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Weekly magazines.
Previously, Debra was digital food editor at delicious magazine and MSN. She’s written for M&S Food, Great British Chefs, loveFOOD, What to Expect, Everyday Health and Time Out, and has had articles published in The Telegraph and The Big Issue.
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