Your ‘True’ Age Might Not Be Your Birthdate And That’s Good News
You know the old expression: “You’re only as old as you feel,” right? Well, it’s wrong. You’re actually only as old as your epigenetic age, or, in other words, you’re as old as the methylation of your DNA. Don’t worry, we’ll unpack the terminology in a moment, but first let’s talk about thing in broader strokes.
In simpler terms, a better measurement than chronological age, which is literally the amount of time that you have been alive, is your biological age. That is to say biological age is the better metric when it comes to matters of health, predictions of longevity, and the potential for you to avoid various diseases and age-related conditions.
For a visual representation of biological age vs. chronological age – and we make this comparison with nothing but respect, please note – look at a picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the last year of his life, then look at a picture of actor Vigo Mortensen. FDR died at 63, the age of Mortensen is at the time of this writing. Yes, the years on the books may be the same, but the aging process clearly weighed on those two quite differently.
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How can people’s biological age be so different from one another even when chronological ages line up? While certain factors, such as congenital diseases, accidents, and exposures to harmful substances can cause issues for anyone, generally speaking, a healthy, active lifestyle will lead to a biological age that is younger than your birthday might suggest. Living well really will help you live a longer, better life.
As is usually the case in life, however, there is a flip side to this coin: many people’s biological age is actually notably older than their chronological age.
The Perils of Epigenetic Age Acceleration
Epigenetic age acceleration is when your DNA has aged more rapidly than would be expected based on your chronological age. According to a study published by the JAMA Network, people who were found to have a lower epigenetic age were much more likely to reach age 90 with intact cognitive function and mobility, while those of more advanced biological age were more likely to be physically and cognitively impaired if they did reach that age, and also, of course, were much less likely to reach that advanced age.
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It must be noted that this study was only focused on women, so while the results may apply to all genders universally, take the findings in their context or with a grain of salt.
Epigenetic age is calculated by looking at DNA methylation, which is a natural process wherein methyl groups bind to DNA. Some methylation is necessary is required for the proper function of DNA molecules, but if an abundance occurs, it can begin to restrict proper expression of the DNA. In people of advanced epigenetic age, more DNA methylation is presented.
What Causes Advanced Biological Age?
You probably won’t be shocked by the factors that lead to epigenetic age acceleration. According to Oxford Academic’s publication Environmental Epigenetics: “DNA methylation can be influenced by environmental factors such as diet, hormones, stress, drugs, or exposure to environmental chemicals.” In other words, an unhealthy lifestyle leads to less health right down to your very genes.
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The choices you make in life, such as whether or not you smoke, regularly consume alcohol, take drugs, and eat heavily processed foods will take a toll on your DNA. So too can where you live, as pollution is terrible for health, as well as factors in your life like a high-stress job, poor sleep habits, and more.
The Good News About Advanced Epigenetic Age
There is a silver lining to be found for anyone who learns that their epigenetic age is older than their chronological age: unlike your actual age based on year and birthdate, your epigenetic age can be lowered again.
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With a healthy diet and regular cardio exercise, ideally both of which are initially supported by a nutrition and fitness expert, you can effectively turn back the clock on genetic aging. In fact, according to a study shared by the National Library of Medicine, switching to a proper diet and committing to regular exercise can reduce genetic age by more than 3.2 years. And not only will eating well and getting exercise help you live longer and feel better later in life, but it will help you feel better now, as well.
Advances in medicine, better access to food and water, and, for many people around the world, safer, cleaner living conditions are already seeing a dramatic increase in life expectancy. Focusing in only on America for the sake of an apples-to-apples comparison, consider the average life expectancy for a person living in America in the middle of the 19th century.
The average life expectancy then was 40 years, per Statista. By the year 1900, life expectancy in America was still a bit under 50 years. In 1950, the average American could expect to live to 67. By the year 2000, it was 76, and today it is around 78 years. We’re already living longer than ever, in terms of our chronological lives. And again, we have no control over how old we are based on the calendar, but we can take some measure of control over our genetic age.
So, what can you do, specifically, to ensure your biological age is as young as possible? For starters, you need to remove as many of those negative factors noted before (smoking, excessive alcohol, stress, and so forth) from your life as you can.
Certain diets, used intermittently, may be able to increase the efficiency of the mitochondria in your cells, and that can do wonders for reducing your biological age. Intermittent fasting, a ketogenic diet, and other approaches can be tried from time to time, though overall the best diet is one that is balanced.
Stress reduction techniques like mindful meditation or sensory deprivation can have lasting effects in your wellness, reducing cortisol levels in your body and helping increase your physical health along with your mental wellbeing.
And of course, exercise is a must. A study cited by Eat This Not That noted higher intensity exercise, engaged in multiple times per week, is the best way to turn back the clock on epigenetic aging. But any exercise is better than none, so even if you can’t get to an Orange Theory class or a kickboxing lesson, a walk or jog around the neighborhood will still help.
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