I Can’t Believe How Young You Look!

Why is it some of your high school friends on Facebook or at a reunion look so young while others look older than their age? Or have early health problems common to older adults? And what about how you’ve aged? A new study sheds new light on factors in aging faster or slower than our chronological age.

Time Magazine reports on a study done in New Zealand and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by Daniel Belsky, professor in the Duke School of Medicine’s geriatric division. Researchers chose 18 biological markers for measuring physical age to be compared with participants’ actual chronological years. The markers would show if each participant was physically, biologically aging faster or slower than his or her chronological age.

How the aging study was designed

The study recruited 954 people born in 1972-73 and followed their health from age 26 to 38. The markers were ones that previous studies showed are linked to aging including blood pressure, lung function, inflammation, cholesterol, body mass index and more. Participants could have markers consistent with someone older, or younger, than their real chronological age. The researchers reexamined the participants in six year increments until age 38 and calculated their biological age as compared to actual chronological age.

The findings

The results showed that participants’ markers could indicate that someone might be, say 32 years old chronologically, but have markers more consistent with someone older or younger. When that was the case, the participant even looked older or younger than their chronological age. Further, when tests for balance and cognition were given, the participants scored consistent with whatever their biological markers said their body’s age was, not what they were in real chronological age.

The study will be extended to follow the participants until age 45.

The bottom line was that some participants biologically aged faster than they should given their actual years, appearing older than they truly were. And some aged slower, scored better on tests and looked younger.

What made the difference in speed of aging?

Of the 18 biological markers over 80 percent are influenced by lifestyle choices. Proper diet, exercise, getting enough quality sleep, managing stress, cutting salt and most of all not smoking have the most impact. The remaining 20 percent of markers were based on inheritable traits in DNA. Nevertheless, voluntary choices can help compensate for those.

What can you do?

Certain tendencies toward conditions and diseases have a genetic component. Heart disease and some auto immune diseases fall into this category. But you can help to minimize some health conditions and certainly benefit all of your body’s systems with good habits. In the process, your biological marker age can be younger than you truly are, and you’ll look and feel younger too. Here are some steps you can take:

Exercise regularly.

Motion is life. Resist the gravitational pull of the sedentary life. Walk briskly several times per week, or ride a bicycle or run. Take a spin class. Do resistance training to maintain muscle strength and look great. Studies have shown that cardio aerobic exercise floods the body with oxygen and benefits cells. Exercise alone will go a long way toward looking and feeling younger.

Eat right.

A common misperception here is to “go on a diet”.  Going on a diet is a temporary fix destined to fail. Instead, adopt a lifestyle of healthy food choices. Research healthy living plans and cook books with delicious recipes. Become absorbed into the world of wholesome eating and the great benefits of it. You will feel like a million dollars, especially when combined with exercise.

Develop good sleep hygiene.

Go to bed at a regular, reasonable time and rise at a set time. A routine trains your body to sleep. Turn off electronic screens one hour before bed. Read a book until you are sleepy. Avoid sleep aid pills that can create dependency in order to sleep.

Limit sun exposure

Sun damage to skin make you look older than you really are as you enter middle age and beyond, not to mention the elevated risk of skin cancers.

Manage and limit stress

During your first waking hour, have a regular time of reflection, meditation and faith building. Enter the day with peace inside, ready to handle what may come.

Nurture relationships

Develop a network of friends and family with whom you have regular, loving relationships. Get together often. Make emotional, relational deposits into one another’s lives, building a reservoir of abiding strength that helps make each day a joy.

Putting a smile on your face helps you look younger already!