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American Politics, Donald Trump and Old People

Rates of Ageing Vary More Than Anyone Knew

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.

The full study is available online here [pdf]. The website for the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study on which this information is based is here.

Other media reports here and here.


There have been many negative things said about us Baby Boomers. We are self-centered, greedy, responsible for everything from air pollution to global warming. But how much research into old age and aging would be done if it were not for the fact that 10,000 baby boomers per day are reaching the age of 65. While we may never have an actual cure for old age, the lives of everyone will be improved by such research. If that's being egotistical and selfish, than so be it.

This is a perfect example of "If I knew then what I know now..." If I had learned what I know about diet and exercise when I was young, I could have maintain my youthful vitality longer. It's too bad younger people aren't studying us older folks, they might be inspired to change their habits before the defects show up. My good habits now are inspired by pain and suffering. I wonder if we can change when we're feeling good? Or will younger generations wait until they feel old before they do anything?

Very interesting information. My kids know this but are human like the rest of us. The upside is they keep their own children fed healthily and active. Good habits help.

While I smoked only a few years it damaged my lungs, stupid kid. However I've been lucky. Maybe it was all those veggies my mom and dad made us eat.

Still I have a sister who is two years younger than I am, and many years older in health and energy. She was always less physically active than myself but she didn't spend her last working years as a desk jockey like myself. And she has always eaten better and is a self taught health food expert. I think she just got a different mix of genetic material than I.

I'm all in favor of studies like these and efforts to determine what causes aging -- those things that we can control. But I will always believe that the luck of the draw, the genetic hand we are dealt, plays a huge role.

I have no idea where I would fit in this study. I smoked for nine years, although I was a very light smoker. I lived with a heavy smoker and breathed second hand smoke for 35 years. I didn't exercise regularly until I was in my 70's.

My mother was an excellent cook, but food loaded with saturated fat were present daily. My diet growing up should have clogged my arteries long ago and I should have been a candidate for a heart attack or a stroke.

I can't take much credit for my longevity and I do think that heredity has more to do with it.

Pied Type...
According to just about every ageing expert I've read, genetics plays about a 20 percent role (give or take) in our ageing.

Although I definitely support continued studies on ageing, I'm with PiedType on this. A healthy lifestyle has been demonstrated to add years (and quality) to the human life span, but the "ravages of age" catch up with all of us sooner or later. I do what I can to stay active and healthy. Still, at 78, my knees, back and hands are creaky at times and I can't always find the car keys if I don't put them where they belong as soon as I get home!

These studies contribute but seldom cover the human experience enough to be definitive... Medical research almost always separates the physical from all other aspects of what it means to live well. Occasionally it throws in the emotional and briefly mentions the spiritual. It never considers the "energetic" (for lack of a better term - that elusive something that weaves and integrates us into the "whole person". Robert Lanza has begun to explore that but we're a long way from understanding how we can truly live a "long healthy" life. The other thing we hardly ever see in these articles or in the research is that as long as we continue to poison the air, earth, and water we'll never reach the goal of a healthy aging population. In fact there have been several articles the past few years regarding a shortening of the lifespan. I agree with the people here who have mentioned the need to accept that we are all going to die - my plan is to live as well as I can for as long as I can and bow out gracefully, of course we all know about plans lol. And I'd prefer to see some of the research dollars spent on the softer sciences and finding ways to support us better as we age and ease the transition we call death. I'm so thankful for people like Dr. Bill Thomas and others who aren't afraid to talk and teach about death.

I'm with Susan. I think we as a society know so much more than we are able or willing to put into practice.

I would guess that studying the small number who have aged more slowly than expected (most match biological age and half of those left have aged more) would produce much of what we already know (e.g., eat well, exercise)

And, better yet, have a good education, ample resources, loving relationships and good genes.

For my money, I would invest in how to help us aging folks better cope with the various things that go wrong.

In the best of all worlds we would figure out early in life what would lead to later health and be able to do it.

In later life we need help preventing what we can (e.g., falling down) and coping with what we can't.

There was a study done at Tufts University on calorie restriction, because they had found that all organisms live longer if they eat less than the recommended intake. Reducing your calories by 25% to %30 could get you some extra years but its probably too late for most of us! I never have been very good on lowering calories, I like my food too much!

I'm an anomaly in the healthy lifestyle equals longer life sweepstakes. I did everything wrong---smoked off and on for 50 years, ate unhealthy food at odd hours, never could sustain an exercise program for more than two weeks so got fat, went late to bed and was late to rise, couldn't maintain personal relationships (two divorces plus other breakups), lived most of my life in an area with vile air, never could maintain a decent social life or engrossing avocation for long, plus more that I'm probably conveniently forgetting.

Of course I didn't escape from my bad habits without consequences. I had bypass surgery and other invasive surgeries as well as much age-related misery such as arthritis and neuropathy. But I kept my teeth and I have made it, so far, to 80 with my brain more or less intact. Go figure. It's probably my damn parents who held on, each of them, to 93. I am not hoping to follow in their ancient footsteps since I strongly believe that enough is enough and unless one has managed to maintain a fairly young and healthy body, just amassing more years is not good enough.

I have only one tip for healthy, energetic living to pass along. Had I managed it consistently all these years, my life would be much more worth living. It's sex. Just that. Each period of my life when I was having good sex and plenty of it, I was vibrantly healthy, could eat anything I wanted, and never gained weight.

Great idea to start studying people at a younger age, but I seriously doubt much will change in how well people age.

Better would be some straight talk in families and with doctors about how long we wish to be patched up by medical procedures. What goes on now may add years, but it does NOTHING to maintain a quality life.

I read that, at first, genetics plays a big part but that as we age the shift to habits and lifestyle takes over more and more. When I read that it was with regards to breast cancer potential. I asked my doctor and he said, "Oh, sure!" I would have loved to know this up front instead of digging it out for myself!
I do feel badly for our youth with their weight problems and the rise in diabetes. Does not bode well for their later years.

I'm fascinated by the longitudinal studies pouring in lately on various aspects of aging. And no, it's not too late for us to benefit, as a kind of consensus emerges. I have rashly embarked on a personal boot camp for old age, looking to audit and improve my life choices in 12 key areas. I'm already pooped but it's worth the effort, according to studies like this one. (I'm a Kiwi, by the way, vicariously proud of the Dunedin research.)

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