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Health, Nutrition, Science

It’s official: you’re only as old as you feel (and look)

Forever Young by Roberto Ventre on Flickr“You are only as old as you feel,” or so the saying goes. This adage is great for cheering yourself up when the grey hairs start to take root, but science has recently revealed that the time-honoured expression is alive and kicking – the younger you feel, the younger you actually are.

Ground-breaking new research has shown what happens when you follow the lives of 1,000 twenty-somethings over a period of ten years. A team of American and New Zealand scientists monitored each volunteer’s ‘biological of age’ over this period, measuring their ‘true age’ through tests for cholesterol, heart and lung health, immune system function and DNA damage (among other things). Incredibly, they found that each person’s body aged at a different rate.

They found that most people seem to grow old pretty fairly normally, at a rate of one year for each calendar year. A handful of people somehow defy the passing of time, however. For some unknown reason, the research revealed a spritely bunch who were living in the body of a 28 year old even though their birth certificate said they were 38. They had a more vigour, nimbler minds and a more youthful appearance than their similarly aged friends. At a high school reunion, these would be the ones with a full head of hair and a wrinkle-free complexion. (Don’t you hate people like that?)

Just how the baby-faced types manage to defy aging is the billion dollar question that everyone want to know the answer for. The researcher didn’t try to answer that question but it is certain that being born with good genes helps – so you can thank your parents for that. (It is estimated that 20% of the aging difference is down to genetics). But the main factor that affects our ‘true’ age tied up in how we live our lives. Good diet, regular exercise, not smoking and going easy on the alcohol will undoubtedly play a major part although. Sadly, we don’t know which factor is the most important.

Most worryingly, some of us age frighteningly quickly and are old before our time. In this study, some people had aged at a rate of three years for each calendar year. By the time they had hit 38, their body was the same as a 60 year old’s. And not only did they look old but their mental abilities had decayed, their internal organs were wearing out and they even complained about how difficult it was to get about.

The encouraging news is that a look in the mirror can tell us to whether we are doing the right things or not. How old you look correlates to you internal age and so a haggard appearance should tell be a wakeup call to cut down on stress, focus on good sleep and allocate time to be nice to yourself. Considering how quickly President Obama turned grey and how aged Mr Cameron now looks, it’s a good job few of us lead such stress-filled lives.

But conversely, whenever someone says, “You look young for your age,” then take heart. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up. And stay young.

Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: Roberto Ventre via Flickr (CC licence)

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

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