Biological aging starts early in adulthood
Reduced biological aging predicts major benefits
Chronic disease exacts a huge toll on Americans and the US medical care system. The burden of chronic diseases rises exponentially with age. Thus, it makes sense for those of us in our younger years to take steps to reduce our risk of chronic disease. Yet, most research about aging focuses on older, not younger, people. Researchers recently used a unique data set from the Dunedin Study birth cohort to estimate the rate of biological aging on a group of 1,037 individuals born in 1972-1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand. An algorithm developed for the 10-biomarker US National Health and Nutrition Survey measure of Biological Age better predicted mortality than did chronological age. Data for eighteen biomarkers were available for participants in the Dunedin study when they were age 26, 32, and 38. Researchers calculated each participant’s Biological Age and their Pace of Aging determined from age 26 to 38.
The Biological Ages of the participants showed a normal distribution, indicating that some participants were biologically older than others, even at age 38. Thus, biological aging was well under way for some participants at the relatively youthful age of 38. Individuals with a lower Biological Age showed a slower Pace of Aging than individuals with higher Biological Age. Eighteen biomarkers differed in their rate of change from age 26 to age 38. The biomarkers that showed the greatest rate of change in a negative direction were HbA1c (which integrates blood glucose levels over a 30-day period), cardiorespiratory fitness, and waist-to-hip ratio. Maintaining these biomarkers at healthier levels would most likely arise from increased physical activity and better diet.
Individuals with lower Biological Age performed better at objective measures of physical capability, including balance, grip strength, motor ability, and physical limitations. Likewise, those with lower Biological Age and slower Pace of Aging showed greater cognitive functioning, slower cognitive decline, and greater artery and vein diameter than those with higher Biological Age and faster Pace of Aging. Those with greater self-rated health had lower Biological Age and slower Pace of Aging than those with greater Biological Age and faster Pace of Aging. Finally, those with greater Biological Age were judged to be older, based on a picture of each face, than those with lower Biological Age. Biological aging appears to begin relatively early in life. Adults who recognize this and take action to embrace healthy choices early on will likely reap major benefits over the long term.