Guest Blogger: Jacob Terranova
If you’re like most of us, when asked how old you are, your answer is based on how many candles were (or should have been) on your last birthday cake. That is your chronological age. But did you know there is a lesser-known way to classify age? It’s known as your biological age.
So what is the difference and why does it matter? Here’s what you need to know.
Chronological age is how we commonly define age. It is not, however, a very good indication of how well a person might be aging. Two individuals born the same year might have different risks for developing certain age-related conditions – because they are aging at a different rate, even though they are the same chronological age. That is why you often see a person who appears and acts younger than they really are, and why it’s important to think about your biological age in addition to your chronological age.
Understanding your biological age
Chronological age is measured in years; but biological age is assessed by a person’s physical and mental functions. Your biological age – also known as your physiological age – is influenced by various factors. And while genetics plays a significant role, other factors include:
Determining biological age is really a better measure of aging and how healthy a person is. For example, assume you’re 25 years old, you smoke, and you live a sedentary lifestyle. Your biological age is certainly older than your chronological age, because it is associated with a higher risk for certain diseases brought on by living such a lifestyle.
So if your biological age is a better indicator of how well you are aging, then how can you accurately measure it?
Recent research points to the importance of DNA methylation in health and the aging process. Methylation has great significance in many processes in the body. Too much or too little methylation can affect many aspects of your daily health and life. In the last few years, researchers have found correlations between the aging of different bodily tissues and the extent of DNA methylation – known as “epigenetic clocks.”
The extent to which areas on your DNA contain methyl groups – meaning they are “methylated” – can be influenced not only by age, but by a wide range of environmental and biological factors, including your diet, your physical health, your microbiome, your mental/emotional health, and environmental factors like exposure to tobacco smoke and other pollutants.
Another age- and health-associated biomarker is telomere length. Telomeres are proteins on DNA found at the end of chromosomes; they are responsible for protecting DNA’s structure and function. Shorter telomeres are associated with poorer health and greater biological age. Although telomeres naturally degrade and shorten during an individual’s life, research points to several factors that might speed up that process. Some factors – like genetics – are uncontrollable; but you can control other factors that adversely affect telomere shortening, including:
We are a long way from knowing all we need to know about DNA methylation, telomeres, and aging. For example, are DNA methylation and telomere length driving the aging process or are they merely signposts along the way? Although research on the underlying mechanisms is still in its infancy, there are a lot of things that are known about how to stay healthy.
How to support a healthy biological age
Although aging is inevitable, there are steps you can take to support healthy aging. The first place to start is to stop any bad habits. That could mean adopting a healthier diet and committing to a regular exercise routine. The more you exercise the better. But it’s hard to commit to exercise if you aren't having fun. If lifting weights or early morning running is not your thing, then don’t sweat it, just find something you do enjoy instead.
Managing stress and getting more sleep are also important aspects of healthy aging!
Get some extra healthy aging support
Beyond a healthier diet, exercise, better sleep, and managing stress, there are additional steps you can take, such as supplementing your diet with nutrients especially designed to support healthy aging.