How To Understand Your Biological Age

While you can’t stop the clock, factors such as health and fitness levels could determine a completely different biological age

We’ve all heard the saying, “You’re only as young as you feel”. Well, there could actually be some truth to that. When we think about age, our minds automatically go to the candles on our birthday cake. Now, however, scientists, doctors and nutritionists are arguing that our biological age is in fact a more important number to look at when it comes to our health.

Essentially, there are two ways we can count how old we are. Firstly, there’s our chronological age, which is the total number of years we’ve been alive. Secondly, we have our biological age, also known as our physiological age. This refers to how old we are internally or how old our body feels.

“Your chronological age is your age in days, months and years. The amount of time you have spent on earth basically,” Dr. Eva Orsmond, founder of Dr. Eva’s Clinics explains. “Your biological age, however, is the age your body is, determined by its health. Certain factors determine this,” she adds. Some of these include environment, lifestyle, diet, stress and exercise.

“Naturally, as we age, our muscle deteriorates and our fat mass increases as we become less active and less able. Maintaining a good general fitness regime to keep our muscles active and strong is an important part of ageing and keeping your body healthy. The health of our organs is also vital to good ageing and maintaining a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh vegetables and water helping to give our body nutrients to feed our organs,” Dr. Eva shares.

Chronic stress is another factor to consider that can impact our biological age. While our body is designed to deal with the stress of every day, chronic stress on the other hand can cause an increase in certain hormones in the body such as adrenaline and cortisol.

“When these are constantly active, almost every process in the body is affected including the immune system, the digestive system and the reproductive system,” explains Dr. Eva. “When stress levels are continuous, people can experience weight gain, digestive issues, sleep disruption, anxiety, the list is extensive! All of this takes its toll on the body and we can actually physically see ageing speed up but it also ages your internal structures.”

Of course, the environment we surround ourselves with can also have a massive effect on our biological age, while studies have shown that poverty can have an effect as there would not be sufficient availability of healthy food, for example. “This affects your microbiome, the bacteria in your gut, having a direct impact on your immune system and the nutrients available to support healthy cell renewal in the body,” Dr. Eva adds.

Finding your biological age

So how old do you feel? Is it different to your actual age? Well as it turns out, there are a few different ways to get a reading on this, and while some methods are more accurate than others, the most reliable way is by studying your epigenetic data and analysing your DNA – which Dr. Eva herself has in fact done.

“I had this analysis for my TV programme, ‘How to live better for longer’, a few years ago and I am very pleased with my results as I am only 28 biologically!” the now 57-year-old shares. However, if that’s not something you’re keen on trying, there are less invasive ways to determine your biological age, one of which is available in Dr. Eva’s clinics in Dublin and Galway.

via Ozan Çulha / Pexels

“In my clinics, our body analysis scales can determine a non-invasive biological age based on the ratio between muscle and fat. We consider that a good assessment but if you are really serious about finding out your body’s age, you can have an analysis done on a DNA sample,” she shares.

As with anything, you might be tempted to Google it too, and yes, there are many online quizzes and calculators that can give you a quick result. However, it should be said that the results from such assessments are a rough estimate and are not designed to compete with laboratory-based tests for accuracy.

Lowering your biological age

In an ideal world, our biological age would be either younger or the same as our chronological age, but what many people are often shocked to find out is that it can sometimes be older. In this case, it means our organs are under greater pressure than they should be and are therefore ageing at a quicker rate.

“This causes health issues and, perhaps, a reliance on medication that would not otherwise have been prescribed. All medications are metabolised in the liver which is a very hard-working organ, but adding extra workload to it causes artificial ageing, causing us to look and feel older than we actually are,” explains Dr. Eva.

The good news, however, is that, unlike chronological ageing, biological ageing can be changed, improved and even reversed to a point with the right lifestyle interventions. Firstly, Dr. Eva suggests looking at your lifestyle. “Are you eating properly? Is your body able to competently deal with stress? Are you sleeping well? Do you have a supportive environment to allow all of the above? Are you maintaining activity by exercising?” she asks.

Look at all of these factors, find the triggers and the things that need addressing and see where you can make changes. “We can all do something to support our body more, life today is extremely fast-paced and we were not designed for this. We need to find a balance. Work, rest and play!”

Whatever your result, it’s important to remember that they are actionable and with the right lifestyle interventions you can lower your biological age and improve your overall health, thereby improving your resistance to many age-related diseases.

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of STELLAR magazine.