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Published: Sep 29th, 2016

How Quickly Are You Growing Old?

How Quickly Are You Growing Old?

The White House Conference on Aging was held yesterday. Every ten years the White House brings in leaders in many areas to discuss aging and the issues of Long Term Health Care. US Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. told the crowd gathered yesterday at the White House and viewing via the internet that the issue of aging is a very important public issue.

“All of us our aging no matter what age we are at, to be clear.” 

Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., US Surgeon General Vice Admiral

So we are all aging, as the Surgeon General says. But does your current age reflect how old you feel? Like you’re 40 years old going on 60? Or maybe, 40 going on 21?

Age may be just a number, but medical experts increasingly are saying it might not always be the right number to gauge your health.

Everybody grows older at a different pace, according to a recent study that found the processes of aging can begin fairly early in life. The study calculated the aging rate of 954 men and women—taking various measurements of their bodies’ health—when they were each 26, 32 and 38 in chronological years. By analyzing how these measures changed over time, the researchers were able to see who aged faster and who slower than normal.

The aim of the research is to be able eventually to identify signs of premature aging before it becomes evident years or decades later in chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or kidney, and lung impairment. “Intervention to reverse or delay the march toward age-related diseases must be scheduled while people are still young,” according to the study, published online last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Also, being able to measure aging in young people could allow scientists to test the effectiveness of antiaging therapies, such as calorie-restrictive diets, the study said.

To measure the pace of biological aging, which the study defined as the declining integrity of multiple organ systems, the researchers relied on 18 separate biomarkers. These ranged from common measures such as HDL-cholesterol levels and mean arterial blood pressure to more obscure ones like the length of telomeres—the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age.

Most of the study participants aged one biological year for each chronological year. Some, however, put on as much as three biological years for every one year, while others didn’t increase in biological age at all during the 12-year span the study surveyed. Using a subset of the biomarkers, the researchers calculated that at 38 years old, the participants’ biological ages ranged from 28 to 61.

Studies looking at biological age have been done before, but mainly in older people who already had age-related diseases. Earlier studies also generally took just a single reading that compared chronological with biological age and didn’t examine the pace of aging over time.

Health issues happen at any age. How your body reacts to those health issues differs from person to person. The need for Long Term Health Care is just one measure of how we feel and the "age" we feel.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says if you reach the age of 65 you will have a 70% chance of needing some type of Long Term Health Care service before you pass. A 2013 U.S. Senate Commission report says 44% of all those who are receiving Long Term Health Care services are under age 65.

These things, experts note, should be kept in mind when planning for retirement and the costs of Long Term Health Care. Those costs are generally not paid for by health insurance or Medicarefor those 65 and older.