How your lifestyle impacts how well you age

As time ticks on, it is certain that we are all getting older. As we age, some of us are resisting the inevitable, fighting to preserve a more youthful appearance. Others are harming their bodies through smoking or lack of sleep, all the while speeding up the biological aging process.

The truth is, no one knows how much longer they have in this life. However, some experts do try to predict a person’s average lifespan. They do this using a life table or actuarial table. These tables show the probability of death and average number of years remaining for each age. For example, for a 50-year-old male has an estimated 29.53 more years of life, while a 50-year-old female is predicted to have 33.09 years of life remaining.

Here’s the truth. It doesn’t matter so much how many years you have left, but how you are aging.

It is true that your body may slow down sooner than you thought, and it could rapidly impact the quality of your years ahead. Aging can be a difficult issue to examine, especially because people seem to age at wildly different rates.

What does it mean to age well?

Many researchers have been exploring what it means to age well over time. One novel study followed 1,037 young adults in Dunedin, who were monitored and measured over many years. The experts analyzed 18 different biomarkers to see if there was a different rate of aging between the study participants. Researchers looked at measures such as weight, body mass index, lung function (FEV and FEV1/FVC), hemoglobin A1c, mean arterial blood pressure, and cholesterol levels of the participants.

Upon analyzing the results, researchers found it possible to determine someone’s “pace of aging” at a relatively young age. This means that someone in their 20s or 30s could potentially know how fast their body would slow down and begin to age based on a few key indicators.

Related: 7 healthy habits to adopt in your 20s

Dunedin Study Director, Professor Richie Poulton, says when they looked at the biomarkers at members at age 38, they were able to set ‘biological ages’ for each person. In contrast to the participant’s chronological ages, these ranged from under 30 to nearly 60 years.

Can we slow down aging?

If we can analyze the rate of aging, can we also slow it down? Experts are now trying to find ways to slow down the aging process, but can it be done? The short answer is yes — we can probably change the pace of aging.

We know that aging is a gradual and progressive deterioration over multiple organ systems, and the aging population continues to grow. As the abstract of the study states, “Anti-aging interventions are needed to reduce the burden of disease and protect population productivity.”

Lifestyle modifications

So the next question will be: If we can determine the pace of aging, is there something we can do now to slow or alter the progression of chronic illness and other burdens that tend to speed the aging process?

It seems that there are many lifestyle factors within our control that can help decrease aging. The study found before midlife, individuals who were aging more rapidly were less physically able, showed cognitive decline and brain aging, self-reported worse health and looked older.

Nutrition.

The problem with studies on nutrition is that is very difficult to quantify what and how much the study subjects are eating. Preliminary data suggests that a mostly plant-based diet which is combined with regular fasting appears to make the biggest difference in inflammatory biomarkers and the pace of aging.

Psychosocial stressors.

Additional factors that appear to make a difference are psychosocial stressors such as poverty or early life adversity. It seems clear that we can positively impact the pace of aging by stable home lives and managing stress in a healthy way.

Genetics.

Genetics do play a role in aging, according to Lenox Hill Hospital internist Dr. Len Horovitz. He points out that family genetics can sometimes even be biologically slower in families.

Related: 6 things you should know about genetic testing

Although the medical contributor from CBS says genetics account for about 20 percent of how people age, environmental and lifestyle factors seem to play a much larger role.

Your lifestyle today matters. Find a doctor to help you age well.

About the author

Dr. Claudia Harsh

Claudia Harsh, MD, is an integrative medicine physician at the Cvetko Center for Integrative Medicine at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

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How your lifestyle impacts how well you age