How old are you — on the inside?
While everyone knows their chronological age, medical experts often speak in terms of biological or “phenotypic” age, which measures factors like metabolism, inflammation and organ function.
Doctors now find that having good cardiovascular health can slow the pace of biological aging and reduce the risk of age-related disease — providing a benefit roughly equal to being six years younger.
Those are some of the findings from a preliminary study to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023 this week in Philadelphia.
The researchers used the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 checklist to analyze the link between heart and brain health.
Life’s Essential 8 is a checklist of healthy lifestyle behaviors and health measures that support cardiovascular health. The eight-item list includes:
- Healthy sleep
- Not smoking
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Healthy body weight
- Blood glucose levels
- Cholesterol levels
- Blood pressure
A person’s overall score is calculated using an average of all eight items, which results in a score that falls into one of three categories: high, moderate or low cardiovascular health.
For the preliminary study, researchers calculated the phenotypic age of more than 6,500 US adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2015 to 2018.
They found that people who had high cardiovascular health had a negative phenotypic age acceleration — meaning that they were physically younger than their actual age.
In contrast, people with low cardiovascular health had a positive phenotypic age acceleration and were physically older than their actual age.
For example, the average actual age of those in the high cardiovascular health group was 41, but their average biological age was 36. Meanwhile, the average actual age of those with low cardiovascular health was 53, though their average physical age was 57 — as though they had aged an extra four years.
“We found that higher cardiovascular health is associated with decelerated biological aging, as measured by phenotypic age,” senior study author Dr. Nour Makarem, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City, said in a news release.
“We also found a dose-dependent association — as heart health goes up, biological aging goes down,” Makarem added. “Phenotypic age is a practical tool to assess our body’s biological aging process and a strong predictor of future risk of disease and death.”
The study revealed that having the highest Life’s Essential 8 score was linked to having a biological age that’s an average of six years younger than the individual’s actual age, compared to having the lowest cardiovascular health score.
“Everyone wants to live longer, yet more importantly, we want to live healthier longer so we can really enjoy and have good quality of life for as many years as possible,” Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, chair of the writing group for Life’s Essential 8, said in the news release.
“These findings help us understand the link between chronological age and biological age and how following healthy lifestyle habits can help us live longer,” Lloyd-Jones added.