Are you ageing faster than your peers?

Adults who look older than their years may be
ageing at an accelerated pace, new research
A study of 38-year-olds in New Zealand found
their “biological age” – the state of their organs,
immune system, heart health and chromosomes –
ranged from as young as 30 to as old as 60 years
of age.
And the older their biological age, the older they
looked, the researchers added.
“We looked at key markers for the integrity and
health of different organs in the bodies of
relatively young adults, in order to detect how
their bodies were actually aging,” said study
author Daniel Belsky, an assistant professor of
medicine at Duke University’s School of Medicine
and Center for Aging, in Durham, N.C.
“What we found is a clear relationship between
looking older on the outside and ageing faster on
the inside,” said Belsky. “And also that it’s
possible to measure the kind of ageing process in
young people that we usually only look for in old
For most young adults, biological age proceeds in
sync with chronological age, the international
research team found. But genetic and
environmental influences can cause your biology
to rack up signs of age much faster – or much
slower – than your birth date might predict.
The findings were published July 6 in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences .
The study authors noted that by 2050 the
population of men and women aged 80 and older
will hit 400 million globally, more than triple the
current number.
That trend, the researchers said, highlights the
importance of finding ways to spot signs of aging
early in life, to fashion therapies that can prolong
healthy living by preventing the onset of age-
related disease.
The study team focused on roughly 1,000 men
and women who had been participating in an
ongoing New Zealand study since their birth in
In 2011, the participants, then 38, underwent tests
of kidney function, liver function, lung capacity
and metabolic and immune system strength.
Cholesterol, blood pressure, dental status, eye
structure and heart health were also assessed,
as was the length of chromosomal caps known as
telomeres. Telomeres are known to shorten with
The researchers found a variance of up to 30
years in the different participants’ biological age,
although all were still free of any age-related
The team conducted a secondary analysis,
comparing biomarker information collected in
2011 with information gathered six and 12 years
That showed that between ages 26 and 38 most
participants aged at an equal biological pace. But
some were gaining three biological years for
every one chronological year. Still others had
essentially stopped getting older, as their
biological age was essentially on “pause.”
What’s more, the older their biological age, the
worse they fared on physical and mental acuity
The fast-agers showed worse balance and poorer
motor coordination, and reported having more
trouble with tasks such as climbing stairs or
carrying groceries.
“This showed that already early in life we can see
symptoms of advanced age in young people,
symptoms that correspond to declining physical
and cognitive function, long before age-related
disease actually develops,” Belsky said.
Dr. Rosanne Leipzig, a professor of geriatric and
palliative medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at
Mount Sinai in New York City, described the
investigation as a “landmark” effort to better
understand the ageing process.
“If we can identify why some people have more
rapid biological ageing, it may be possible to
intervene and reduce the risks of complications
and diseases related to ageing,” said Leipzig, who
was not involved in the study.
Belsky said the findings might propel scientists in
a new direction. “This can help us as we start to
come around to the idea that instead of trying to
prevent individual illnesses like heart disease or
cancer,” he said, “we need to try to find ways to
treat the common cause of all these things:
The research was funded by the New Zealand
Health Research Council , the U.S. National
Institute on Ageing , the U.K. Medical Research
Council , the Jacobs Foundation and the Yad
Hanadiv Rothschild Foundation .

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