A study published in Aging-US reveals to us how psychological factors could impact aging compared to established physical factors such as the habit of smoking.
Chronological and biological ages
Everyone born in the same year has the same chronological age, but our bodies age at different rates. A distinction is then made between “chronological” age, determined by the year of birth, and “biological” age, based on the aging of the body’s functions. This age can be influenced by genetics, lifestyle and other factors. For example, a fifty-year-old (chronological age) person may be biologically younger than a thirty-year-old.
Based on the pace of aging, people can be divided into slow, normal, and rapid aging. Several studies have shown that a rapid rate of aging is associated with higher all-cause mortality. Conversely, a slow rate of aging is associated with better health.
That being said, “aging clocks” are statistical models that measure biological age. In this sense, this technological approach promises to become a versatile diagnostic and prognostic tool over the next few years, benefiting several industries adjacent to healthcare such as insurance and nutrition.
Almost two more years for the most depressed
Most often, these clocks are trained to predict a person’s biological age based on several parameters such as blood test results, gene expression levels, or DNA methylation intensities.
More recently, researchers from the biotech company Deep Longevity, Stanford University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong have developed a new numerical model of aging that reveals the importance of psychological health on our biological age.
For this work, the researchers trained their aging clock with blood and biometric data from 11,914 Chinese adults. This is the first clock to be trained exclusively on a Chinese cohort of such volume.
Unsurprisingly, accelerated aging has been detected in people with a history of stroke, liver disease and lung disease. The average effect of these diseases would have added approximately eighteen more months at their biological age. The team also reports that smokers should have fifteen more months than their non-smoking peers.
More interesting: an acceleration of aging would have been detected in people in a vulnerable mental state. In fact, feeling hopeless, unhappy and lonely has been shown to add up to 1.65 years a person’s biological age.
Don’t underestimate the mind
The authors of the article conclude that the psychological aspect of aging should not be overlooked either in research or in practical anti-aging applications. ” Taking care of your psychological health is the biggest contributor you can have to slowing down your rate of aging“, notes Fedor Galkin, co-author of the study. These results are interesting and add to existing evidence that factors such as stress and low socioeconomic position are linked to accelerated aging.
Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology and epidemiology at University College London, warns though: isolation and loneliness are unlikely to be truly worse health risk factors than smoking. Indeed, the study here examined only the data collected at a given time. ” Researchers didn’t follow participants to show that those with psychological distress actually aged faster” , did he declare. ” It will be important in the future to test whether these predictions are met by repeating the tests over several years.. »
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