It is well-known fact I frequently mention on this blog that we age at different rates. No one disputes that. Now, however, new research reveals that the differences are much wider than has been known:
”A study of nearly one thousand 38-year-olds found that while most had biological ages close to the number of birthdays they had notched up, others were far younger or older,” reports The Guardian.”
The ongoing study, which Cop Car of Cop Car's Beat alerted me to, follows 954 people from the same town in New Zealand who were all born in 1972-73.
”The scientists looked at 18 different ageing-related traits when the group turned 26, 32 and 38 years old...” reports the BBC.
“The analysis showed that at the age of 38, the people's biological ages ranged from the late-20s to those who were nearly 60...The study said some people had almost stopped ageing during the period of the study, while others were gaining nearly three years of biological age for every twelve months that passed.
“People with older biological ages tended to do worse in tests of brain function and had a weaker grip.”
Dan Belsky, the first author of this latest report from the study, who is an assistant professor of geriatrics at Duke University's Center for Aging, explained why they chose such young people to look at ageing:
“Most studies of aging look at seniors, but if we want to be able to prevent age-related disease, we’re going to have to start studying aging in young people,” he told the Duke University website.
“Belsky said the progress of aging shows in human organs just as it does in eyes, joints and hair, but sooner. So as part of their regular reassessment of the study population at age 38 in 2011, the team measured the functions of kidneys, liver, lungs, metabolic and immune systems.
“They also measured HDL cholesterol, cardiorespiratory fitness, lung function and the length of the telomeres - protective caps at the end of chromosomes that have been found to shorten with age. The study also measures dental health and the condition of the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eyes, which are a proxy for the brain’s blood vessels.
“Based on a subset of these biomarkers, the research team set a 'biological age' for each participant, which ranged from under 30 to nearly 60 in the 38-year-olds.”
The next steps, says Belsky are to
”...sift through the lives of the...participants to see how factors such as lifestyle, medical history, family circumstances, and stressful events might affect the speed at which people age,” he told The Guardian.
“...It’s becoming increasingly clear that ageing is really the cause of much of the disease and disability burden we face, but our existing science is based on ageing in older people who already have a lot of age-related diseases...
“The ultimate goal is to target ageing instead of the multiple separate diseases that people are increasingly likely to develop as they age. 'As we get older, our risk grows for all kinds of different diseases. To prevent multiple diseases simultaneously, ageing itself has to be the target,' Belsky said.”
So, it's not just the discovery that we age even more differently from one another than we already knew that is important, but that knowing such can now be put to good use in figuring out how to give humans a healthier old age.
This is a remarkable breakthrough in understanding ageing better than we do now. I suspect it won't advance quickly enough to help thee and me, but if age-related diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, etc., can be forestalled when people are younger, it will immeasurably improve old age for our children, grandchildren and beyond.