You undoubtedly know your age, the number of years that have passed since you were born. But do you know your biological age?
Also known as physiological or functional age, biological age differs from chronological age because it considers the gradual accumulation of damage to various cells and tissues in the body.
In summary, your body may be younger or older than the years you have been on this planet!
Your biological age is influenced by your lifestyle, genetics, chronological age, and certain diseases. While the passing of time is out of our control, it is possible to manage how our body ages through lifestyle improvements.
There are several mechanisms by which ageing happens. As years go by, cells become less able to divide and multiply, connective tissues stiffen, muscles lose mass, and organs reduce in function – especially the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
There is no single cause of ageing. Instead, there appear to be multiple contributors – including oxidative stress, shortening of telomeres, DNA damage and gene mutations.
While we can't be young forever, poor lifestyle habits can make you age faster, while optimum ones can help slow it down.
Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can cause your brain to age faster and increase the risk of age-related conditions such as cognitive decline and dementia. This process occurs due to a build-up of B-amyloid protein fragments deposited in the brain. The accumulation of this substance degrades synapses (the connections between cells and neurons) and eventually leads to nerve cell death.
Some people might pride themselves on surviving with just a few hours of sleep a night, but it's essential not to fall into this trap if you want to avoid ageing your brain too quickly! So instead, make getting a good night's sleep a top priority in your life.
When a person suffers ongoing stress, their body creates the right conditions for ageing. This includes increased inflammation, shortened cell telomeres, oxidative stress, and tissue damage.
So if chronic and ongoing stress is a feature in your life, it's essential to proactively manage it to avoid premature ageing.
Poor dietary habits make you age faster and can cause earlier mortality.
For example, a high-fat diet can result in inflammation and oxidative stress, leading to the ageing of the organs, including the skin.
Fad diets can also be detrimental due to their high intake of specific macronutrients at the expense of others. This may result in nutrient deficiency – which can affect physical and cognitive health and accelerate ageing.
For example, while some diet programs cut out grains altogether, research shows that regularly consuming wholegrains promotes greater longevity.
It's clear from studies that to help slow down the ageing process, a balanced diet including all the food groups is the best bet! The Mediterranean diet is a good place to start!
Lack of regular exercise can lead to muscle loss, inflammation, higher cholesterol and an increased risk of insulin resistance – conditions often associated with ageing.
Conversely, regular physical activity can help to regenerate the capacity of muscles. It can also help increase blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation.
Repeated bouts of heavy drinking can cause inflammation and make you age quicker. This includes drying out of the skin and weakening of the vital organs and immunity.
Studies on alcohol abuse indicate that it affects several synapses and neurons throughout the brain, potentially impairing brain function.
Reducing alcohol is, therefore, important to slow down ageing. However, alcohol is often consumed in a social context, making it harder to resist. Our tips on alcohol-free socialising may help overcome this problem!
Inflammation is a natural body response to injury or illness and is important for fighting infection. But repeated episodes of inflammation can accelerate the ageing process via tissue and immune dysfunction and nervous system damage.
Chronic inflammation can occur due to all lifestyle factors such as ongoing stress, heavy drinking, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity.
Improvements to lifestyle in terms of nutrition, exercise, sleep and reducing stress and alcohol can contribute towards lowering chronic inflammation, helping to prevent early ageing.
If you're interested in discovering how your lifestyle habits may impact your health and how quickly you age, our at-home finger-prick blood test can help.