From the moment you are born, your body is aging. We commonly recognize aging as a chronological process: Each rotation of the earth around the sun tacks another year onto your life. However, your age in years, or “chronological age,” is but one reflection of where your body exists in time.
On the cellular level, your body is also aging biologically, independent of the number of candles on your birthday cake! “Biological aging” occurs as cells and tissues accumulate damage over time. In other words, it reflects the pace at which your body has physically aged for each year that you’ve been alive.
Your cells and tissues may be “younger” or “older” than you are in years, depending on factors such as diet, lifestyle, and genetics.
If you are biologically “younger” than your chronological age, you have a lesser risk of experiencing age-related health concerns. Conversely, being biologically “older” than your chronological age places you at greater risk for declining health.
A growing body of research indicates that biological age is a crucial health metric with implications for our metabolic health, cognition, and immune function.
What’s Your Biological Age? 3 Key Biomarkers
There are a few biomarkers we can use to figure out our biological age: telomere length, DNA methylation, and blood markers.
Chromosomes are compact, threadlike structures composed of your DNA wound around proteins called histones. Every time your cells divide to replenish themselves, your chromosomes shorten. Telomeres are tiny caps of genetic material at the ends of your chromosomes, similar to the plastic caps at the end of your shoelaces.
Telomeres buffer your chromosomes against the shortening process associated with cell division. Just as plastic protects your shoelaces from fraying, telomeres protect your chromosomes from fraying and compromising your DNA integrity. However, telomeres are not invincible. They suffer wear and tear over time, compromising health.
The process of telomere shortening that occurs with age is a powerful marker of biological age.
Telomere shortening is associated with age-related declines in health, including compromised metabolic and brain function. Thanks to scientific ingenuity, you can now test the length of your telomeres and get a sense of your biological age with convenient at-home test kits. Keep in mind that these test kits are not perfect, so it’s important to take the results in stride.
Methylation is the process by which your body adds or removes small chemical groups, called “methyl groups,” to and from your DNA. Methylation impacts how your genes are expressed, influencing processes throughout your body. Cellular and tissue aging leads to predictable changes in DNA methylation, making the measurement of DNA methylation a reliable tool for assessing biological age. (1).
Blood pressure is a simple metric that can provide information about how your body is aging. Blood pressure outside the healthy range is associated with compromised cardiovascular health, a manifestation of accelerated biological aging. Conversely, a healthy blood pressure indicates better vascular health and inflammatory balance.
Your blood sugar level (the amount of glucose circulating in your blood) has far-reaching effects on your health, impacting everything from how your body stores fat to the integrity of your blood vessels. Sustained high levels of blood glucose accelerate biological aging by increasing free radicals, which damage DNA, lipids, and proteins. Damaged cellular components are a hallmark of aging.
Measuring your fasting blood glucose – your blood glucose level after at least 8 hours of fasting, as well as hemoglobin A1c, a marker of average blood glucose levels over the preceding three months, will reveal information about your glucose control so you can improve these important markers of aging. These are common labs that can easily be ordered by your doctor.
Strategies to Slow Biological Aging
So now that you know what to watch for, what can you do to slow these hallmarks of aging? Here are a few strategies that will keep you on top of your health.
Monitor blood sugar levels:
Higher blood sugar levels may contribute to biological aging (2). Avoid processed, refined carbohydrates; for example, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been associated with telomere shortening (3). Eat protein at each meal. And consume a wide variety of vegetables: The fiber and phytochemicals in vegetables support healthy blood sugar control.
Life stress is associated with telomere shortening (4). Some forms of meditation may support telomere maintenance by increasing positive hormonal factors that promote telomere maintenance (5). Mindful movement may also promote telomere maintenance and healthy aging.
Eat well & exercise:
Physical activity and nutrition, together, appear to support a slower rate of biological aging and studies show that aerobic exercise lengthens telomeres (6), (7). Try for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. There are common links between aging and obesity; maintaining a healthy weight may also be important for regulating biological aging (8).
Lack of high-quality sleep and disordered breathing during sleep may contribute to accelerated biological aging (9). You know what to do: Remove known distractions and ritualize your nighttime routine.
Look into astragaloside and NAD+ supplements. Astragalosides contain phytochemicals that promote telomerase activity (enzymes that support telomere length), maintaining healthy telomeres, and staving off biological aging (10). Likewise, topping off your body’s NAD+ has been shown to increase the body’s resilience to the diseases of aging, thereby extending healthspan (11).
Now that you know the key biomarkers and strategies to offset some of the most common indicators of accelerated aging, you can test and track whether your interventions are making an impact. Happy next birthday!