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Your Age Isn't the Best Predictor of Your Health

Story at-a-glance -

  • Your risk of some health conditions may be based on your chronological age, but you can change your potential risk when you impact your biological age
  • Your health is linked to a number of different factors, including your ability to see contrast in similar color backgrounds, psychological well-being and mobility
  • You make choices each day affecting the length of your telomeres, another factor in biological aging. Making the right lifestyle choices may increase your potential for a long and healthy life

By Dr. Mercola

As a general rule, you have a higher risk of some health conditions based on your age. For instance, you are at higher risk for osteoporosis when you’re 70 years or older or at higher risk for gallstones if you’re a woman in your 40s.

Of course, these general rules don’t to apply to everyone. There are 70-year-olds still competing in bodybuilding competitions and 40-year-olds who have heart conditions and joints damaged by arthritis.

While your age does factor into your general health, it isn’t the only factor and sometimes not the most important one. Researchers are now evaluating the differences between biological age and chronological age.

Age and Health

According to research from the University of Chicago, chronological age doesn’t play a role when accounting for differences in health and wellness of older individuals.1 The study used a sample of 3,000 people between the ages of 57 and 85 to gather data over a five-year time period.

Traditional biomedical markers used in similar studies included health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. The study from the University of Chicago used other markers, such as psychological well-being, mobility, eyesight, history of bone fractures, and 50 other health variables.

Until recently, most medical professionals ranked your health and longevity based on your health conditions, such as diabetes, osteoporosis or cancer. However, it is also clear that everyone responds to these illnesses and treatments differently, based on your overall health, genetics and lifestyle choices.

These differences send you down a unique pathway, making a projection of your lifespan difficult to predict. This study found that the individuals who ranked the healthiest were typically heavier than normal weight for their height and had higher blood pressure.2

The individuals who were in the middle group were typically in a normal weight range and did not have heart disease or diabetes, but did suffer from a minor health issue, such as anemia.

Those who were in the group felt to be the least healthy, and whose risk of early death was highest, suffered from untreated diabetes and were relatively immobile. Martha McClintock, Ph.D., lead researcher and professor of Psychology and Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, says:

“We’re rethinking aging not as one set of railroad tracks that we all progress along, but appreciating that there are different pathways of aging. It’s more like deltas in a river. We get to the end of the journey on different pathways.”

Challenges to Your Perceptions of Health

The results of this large study challenge the traditional method of measuring health. Where once your health was measured by the number of negative health conditions you experienced, this study suggests that the positive conditions in your life also play a part in how well you’ll respond to health issues and the subsequent treatments.3 

The problem with defining health by the absence of illness or disease is other key conditions impacting your health and longevity are overlooked.

According to the study, a full 25 percent of U.S. citizens categorized as healthy by traditional standards have some risk of dying or becoming incapacitated in the following five years when other factors are considered.

The study authors defined their 54 different health factors as a comprehensive model of health and aging. Other factors considered in the evaluation of the participants included heart rate, neuro-immune function and sensory abilities.

Researchers identified six different levels of potential health categories, including the three mentioned above. Obesity is a complex factor that may or may not increase your risk of early death.

For the most part, carrying extra weight increases your risk of joint damage, heart disease and other immune-mediated health conditions.

However, the researchers also discovered a group of individuals whose weight did not impact other factors included in their health model. These individuals were classified as robust obese because their weight did not reduce their mobility and was not associated with concurrent diabetes or heart disease.

In fact, researchers found that individuals in this classification were the healthiest and the least likely to die or become incapacitated in the following five years.4

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Broken Bones Correlated With Disability or Death in 5 Years

According to the data gathered in the study, 1 of every 7 persons will break a bone during or after middle age. They found individuals who suffered a broken bone after age 45 and were in average health had a higher likelihood of disability or death within the next five years.

The researchers found that these broken bones were not broken hips at later ages, but rather bones that broke and healed well. The break did not incapacitate the individual at all. McClintock says:

“This wasn’t breaking a hip at the end of life. This is having a broken bone that healed. They were still active and not immobilized because of it. And yet they were more likely to become incapacitated five years later.

The reason is because of frailty and because of accidents. Frailty means muscle strength, nervous system functioning, poor balance and trouble walking around the block.”5

The research team felt that broken bones under these circumstances indicated early signs of a neurological or muscular disorder, increasing the individual risk for incapacitation.

Biological Markers

Other studies have also evaluated the effects of biological markers on aging and health without regard to chronological age. In one study, researchers evaluated biological markers in a group of 180 Master Swimmers between the ages of 20 years to over 70 years.6

The scientists used several different measurements comparing this group to a group of similar size and age from the general population. Their findings demonstrated the positive effects of exercise on biological markers indicating good health. These markers included:


Blood pressure

Cholesterol levels

Heart rate

Body mass index (BMI)

Pulmonary function

Skeletal mass

Muscle power

Each of these markers often decline with an increase in chronological age. However, the Master Swimmers in all age groups demonstrated better measurements in each of these categories. Researchers found that the markers of aging were more positive for the younger swimmers and for those in the older categories.

Other research also uses the same approach to defining the differences between chronological and biological age markers. The search for markers to reveal biological aging will give physicians unique measurements for each individual, allowing for specific treatment options based on the ability of your body to withstand the protocol.

Tracking these guidelines will also help you to determine if the changes you’re making in your diet, exercise and lifestyle choices are pushing you further from a decline or toward it.

Methods for Determining Your Biological Age

Experts also agree that using acceptable biomarkers to determine biological age would be a better indicator of lifespan than chronological age.7

However, these biomarkers may not be measured with a simple blood test or questionnaire. In a study performed in 2010, researchers analyzed the medical records of over 4,000 women. They found the ability to see contrast in similar color backgrounds (lightly shaded image on a white background) was a significant predictive factor in future mortality.8

Another predictive factor were the number of rapid step-ups the participant could perform on a low platform in 10 seconds. Thirteen factors were found in that study to characterize a clinical representation of healthy aging in older women.9 McClintock cautions:

“We’ve shown that these other measures are just as important if not more important than organ system diseases in predicting healthy aging, so it’s crucial to include them in the practice of medicine and in healthy policy.”10

Another Key Is Your Telomeres

Science has determined that each of your chromosomes has a compound structure on the end called a telomere. These telomeres cap the end of the DNA strands, protecting them much like the plastic pieces on the end of a shoelace protects the lace from unraveling.

Telomeres protect vital information in your DNA strands. Your cells rejuvenate through replicating or reproducing. With each reproduction, the telomere protecting the end of the DNA strand becomes shorter and shorter, until finally the telomeres are so short the cells don’t function correctly.11

Shortened telomeres are associated with poor immune response, biological aging and bone mineral density.12,13,14 Each of these are factors in how well you functionally and clinically age. Several factors influence the length and changes to your telomeres, including stress, social support, diet and exercise.15

What Can You Do to Improve Your Biological Age?

Although genetics play an important role in your overall health and biological age markers, so do the choices you make every day. Each of the choices outlined below may help you to enjoy better health and a longer life.

1. Food

You truly are what you eat. Your body uses the food you eat for fuel and for nutrients to grow healthy cells. For you to experience good health, your cells must also be healthy. For your cells to be healthy you must feed them real food, filled with nutrients and fuel.

2. Hydration

On average your body is 60 percent water. Some areas of your body have a higher percentage of water, such as your brain and heart at 73 percent and your lungs at 83 percent water. Staying hydrated reduces the stress on your cells, a preventive measure to slow aging.16 

Judge your hydration level by the color of your urine. Drink enough water so your urine is light yellow or light straw color and you are urinating four to seven times a day.

3. Exercise

Exercise is important to your health and your physical ability to get through your day. But it is also important to the length of your telomeres. In data gathered from about 6,500 participants, researchers found those who exercised consistently and frequently between the ages of 40 and 65 had the most impact on the length of their telomeres and therefore their biological age.17

There were clear associations between the amount of exercise the participant got and the length of their telomeres. Another study demonstrated the link between people who participated in moderate amounts of exercise, burning between approximately 1,000 and 3,500 calories per week, and longer telomere lengths.18

You can achieve that calorie burn and significant exercise for your body and your heart using Peak Fitness or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The program is simple, structured and lasts a mere 20 minutes. Read more about this program you can fit into your schedule.

4. Balance

Maintaining communication between your brain and your musculoskeletal system is important to reducing your risk of falling. The ability to balance, be flexible and have a strong core all integrate for a reduced risk of falls and broken bones. Your goal isn’t to walk a tightrope but to be fully capable of catching yourself if you get off balance.

Balance exercises aren’t just for the elderly. If you can’t stand on one foot for at least 30 seconds, without holding on to something for balance, it’s time you started to incorporate these exercises into your daily routine. You’ll likely see a marked difference in just a couple of weeks.

5. Mental Health

Your mental and cognitive health are impacted by a number of physical factors, such as hydration, exercise and diet. But there are other factors you should address in order to enjoy good mental health and maintain your cognitive abilities. These factors include:19

Social support: your circle of support, including friends and family, help to reduce your stress levels and improve your outlook on life.

Stress management: stress increases your secretion of cortisol, impacting your other bodily systems and stressing your body at the cellular level.

Optimism/Being happy: people who have lived until their 100th birthday say that being happy and having a positive attitude were important to their longevity.

Mental exercises: you’ve heard the expression “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” The same is true for your cognitive abilities. Your brain needs exercise, just as your body does.

Sleep: necessary to detoxify your brain; your body and brain need restful, quality sleep each night.

Faith: it’s the belief in something unseen. Your faith or spirituality is an important aspect to your mental health and preventing depression.

6. Chemical Exposure

Your body is assaulted by toxins and chemicals in the foods you eat, the air you breathe and the furniture you sit on. Your body works hard to detoxify as much as possible, but the task is overwhelming. It is important to limit your exposure as much as you are able with the following tips:


Stop smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke

Use non-toxic products, such as white vinegar and baking soda, to clean your home

Don’t use air fresheners, scented candles or other scented products

Use garbage bags without deodorizers

Limit your use of any unnecessary over-the-counter and prescription medications

Use green laundry detergent

Use organic gardening methods

+ Sources and References