Eating lots of fruit and vegetables, getting enough exercise, we all know that we can do something ourselves to grow old healthily. But not often are they linked as one-to-one as in a new American study: anyone who lives a healthy lifestyle can easily shave six years off their biological age.
But what is healthy living and what exactly does biological age mean? The answer to that first question is simple: the American Heart Association uses a guideline called Life’s Essential 8, or eight healthy habits that are good for the heart and vessels. We list them here: eat healthy, so with enough vegetables, fruit and whole grain products, nuts and lean proteins; exercise enough, i.e. 2.5 hours of moderately intensive or 75 minutes of intensive exercise per week; do not smoke; sleep enough, seven to nine hours a night; maintain a healthy weight, i.e. a BMI of maximum 25; keep your cholesterol under control; pay attention to your blood sugar level and ensure that your blood pressure remains within the range. In this way you maintain the health of your heart and blood vessels and thus gain many healthy years of life, the idea is.
Aging of your body
Biological age is also called phenotypic age. While your calendar age is indeed, as they say, ‘just a number’, your phenotypic age is a better measure of the actual age of your body. This involves looking at nine blood markers for, among other things, your metabolism, inflammation levels and organ functions. If your phenotypic age is higher than your real age, there is accelerated aging.
“We discovered that better cardiovascular health is linked to slower biological aging, in terms of phenotypic age. “Also, if heart health improves, biological aging slows down,” says researcher Nour Makarem Columbia University. “Phenotypic age is a practical way to assess our body’s aging process and a good predictor of future risk of disease and death.”
Lower biological age
And so the researchers decided to calculate the phenotypic age of more than 6,500 adults, with an average age of 47, who participated in a national health survey between 2015 and 2018. The results were clear: people who scored high on Life’s Essential 8 and who therefore had good cardiovascular health, were physically younger than their calendar age and those with a low score actually had a higher phenotypic age than you would expect. For example, those with good cardiovascular health were actually 41 years old, while their average biological age was only 36. And the other way around was also true: the people who scored low on the characteristics for good cardiovascular health were not biologically 53, as stated in their passport, but 57 years old.
After adjusting for social, economic and demographic factors, those who scored in the highest category on Life’s Essential 8 were biologically six years younger than their calendar age, compared to the lowest scores on the heart health scale.
A limitation of the study is that cardiovascular health was only measured at one time. It is therefore unclear what the effect of changes in cardiovascular health is and the extent to which phenotypic age may change over the years.
The benefits of healthy living
Nevertheless, according to Makarem, it helps enormously to better adhere to all Life’s Essential 8 features. “This improves cardiovascular health and can slow down the aging process of your body. Lower biological age is not only associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but it also leads to a longer life and a lower risk of death in general,” the researcher said.
The study once again confirms the usefulness of a healthy life. “These findings help us understand the link between chronological age and biological age and highlight how healthy lifestyle habits can help us live longer. Everyone wants to live longer, and even more importantly, we want to live healthily for longer, so that we can really enjoy it and have a good quality of life for as long as possible,” says Professor Donald Lloyd-Jones of Northwestern University in conclusion.