More Health:

May 31, 2024

There's no Fountain of Youth, but there are ways to slow the aging process

Your chronological age will keep on ticking upward. But your biological age – defined by the health of your cells – can be altered through lifestyle changes.

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Aging Exercise Diet Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Your chronological age always keeps ticking upward. But your biological age – defined by the health of your cells – can be altered by exercise and dietary changes, research shows.

The Fountain of Youth may be a mythical source of restorative powers to reverse the aging process, but there are indeed science-based methods for turning back the clock. It will take more than a sip of magical water, but the results can indeed increase longevity, reduce the risk of disease and add to your quality of life.

In the spirit of explorer Juan Ponce de León, let's set out on our own journey to find a way to slow down and maybe even reverse the hands of time.

Chronological age, the number of years since birth, is typically how we think about age. However, scientists have identified other scales based on biopsychosocial factors and argued that these assessments offer a more precise picture of your age. Most importantly, one of these alternatives shows the way to move the needle back compared to your chronological age. Let's consider the concepts of biological age and subjective age.

What is biological age?

Medical experts at the Potocsnak Longevity Institute at Northwestern Medicine explain that your biological age is the age of your cells, which can be different from chronological age because people age at different rates. What makes biological age important is that the age of your cells is the most important risk factor in determining your susceptibility to many diseases. At the heart of biological age is DNA methylation, the process of your cells replicating and repairing themselves. It is a precise predictor of biological age.

A critical point from the experts is that factors like lifestyle, stress and access to health care can influence your biological age. According to Dr. Douglas Vaughan, co-director of Potocsnak, "DNA methylation can be reversed by lifestyle changes. You can alter your fate with diet and exercise."

The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging analyzed research suggesting the combination of diet and exercise are effective methods for improving biological age. And a study from Stanford found that diet and exercise, along with stress reduction breathing, decreased epigenetic (reversible molecular modifications made to DNA) age by over three years compared to a control group.

Dr. Morgan Levine, a senior research scientist at Altos Labs in San Diego, says people have control over their biological age because "only about 10 to maybe 20% of your lifespan is dictated by our genes." As reported by CNN, Levine believes that biological age can be improved through changes in lifestyle, diet, exercise and sleep habits.

The evidence is strong that your biological age is much more predictive of your health and longevity. Moreover, we all have the opportunity to influence our biological age and even reduce it relative to our chronological age with attention to our lifestyles. A little more challenging than a sip at the Fountain, but certainly within reach.

What is subjective age

Subjective Age reflects how old a person feels and into which age group people categorize themselves. It is also referred to as a person's psychological age. Someone's subjective age may be older or younger than their chronological age, but recent evidence published in Frontiers in Medicine suggests the predominance of a younger subjective age.

According to reports from the American Psychological Association, increasing your physical activity and feeling more in control of your life are the key factors to feeling young. The Journal of Psychiatric Research describes a range of positive health and development outcomes linked to feeling younger. This includes improved subjective well-being and cognitive outcomes, and reduced depressive symptoms. Other studies have included positive outcomes associated with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, brain aging and stress.

As for benefits to our physical health, scientists have characterized the relationship between a younger subjective age and physical health as a bidirectional. Feeling younger is associated with better physical functioning, and studies suggests that physical health significantly impacts subjective age. The two go hand in hand.

The University of Wisconsin's report "Midlife in the United States" provides additional insights into the importance of subjective aging and presents a number findings from this national survey. People who feel younger than their actual age are more likely to report excellent or very good health, have more control over their health and put more effort into their health. Younger-feeling adults are less likely to report heart trouble and fewer risk factors for future disease.

How to feel younger

So, if feeling young can generate all these benefits, what can you do to feel younger?

The Harvard Medical School offers the following tips. Reduce anxiety through daily meditation, reading up on ways to maximize positive emotions and spending quiet time each day expressing gratitude. Find a sense of purpose and pursue goals to feel life is worthwhile. Explore self-development, whether that's by learning an instrument, volunteering or taking a class. Stay connected by maintaining an active social calendar and bond with those who have shared interests. Find a physical challenge that you can realistically complete. Get a job. And most importantly, reject age stereotypes.

To these tips I'll reference two other age-fighting tactics I've covered previously. The first is maintaining a positive outlook on aging. Yale researcher Becca Levy documented that people who hold positive perceptions of older adults' capabilities are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, which can extend their lives. The second is the power of optimism which has myriad benefits to our physical and mental health.

The concepts of biological age and subjective age provide evidence that science offers those over 50, and men and women of all ages for that matter, a pathway to maximize the human experience. Like all of the lifestyle topics I've covered, they exhibit the common theme that healthy behavior, combined with social and psychological motivation, creates a powerful force that can sustain your physical and mental capabilities and the quality of life that follows. 

And yes, if you master these biopsychosocial strategies and apply your biological age, you'll find your own Fountain of Youth. It's an inspiring way to count the years and reward yourself for your commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.

Follow us

Health Videos