Yesterday the media was full of reports on the study into ageing undertaken by Duke University in North Carolina published in the journal Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences. Based upon the health and broader lives of 1,000 New Zealanders born in 1972 or 1973 in Dunedin, the researchers used eighteen physiological markers – including blood pressure, organ function and metabolism – to assess the biological ages of each of the participants at the ages of 26, 32 and 38.
The study showed that by the age of 38, although about 30 of the original group had already died before that age from serious illnesses, accidents, drugs and suicide, most had aged at roughly the same biological rate as their ages suggested, there were also some fascinating and unexpected results.
For some, it appeared that the twelve years between their ages of 26 and 38 had taken no obvious toll upon their bodies at all.
Others were less fortunate. Although the overwhelming majority of the participants at 38 were biologically in ‘their mid-forties or younger’, many were in their ‘mid-fifties’ and one person was actually (in biological terms) already 61. The implication was that those in their ‘mid-fifties’ and beyond had effectively aged three biological years for ever actual year over the past dozen.
The point of the study was to take a new look at the ageing process. Professor Daniel Belsky of Duke University said “Our goal was to see if we can measure ageing in young people. 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 participants with older biological ages than their actual age fared worse in tests normally given to those over 60 involving balance, coordination, walking up stairs and solving unfamiliar problems. When younger students were shown photographs of participants in the study, they uniformly identified those who were biologically older than their years as ‘older’.
I don’t know about you, but these findings of the Duke University shocked me to the core.
About fifteen years ago my brother and I had to have medicals in order that the company we were working for could get ‘key man’ insurance upon us in advance of a flotation upon the AIM market. When the results came back (I am about two and a half years the elder) I was slightly miffed to discover that my biological age was almost exactly my actual age – this when I was confidently expecting that I would be found to be about 20 years younger.
But this was nothing as to the humiliation heaped upon my brother. He was given a biological age of 54, about 8 years older than he really was! When our results came in, I immediately commiserated with him, but he brushed the sympathy aside, admitting “Don’t worry, I was expecting to come out far older than that!”
Last night I made my first visit to the gym of this week, having begun my latest fitness regime – viz. (1) giving up beer, Pimm’s and smoking a tin of small cigars per day and (2) going to the gym instead – last Wednesday.
Having, through the general lack of fitness and lack of wind caused by not having been to the gym for a month, been physically unable to do more than fifteen minutes on the cardio stepping machine on Wednesday and Saturday, I surprised and delighted myself last night by powering on (mind you, not without a great deal of effort and giving myself a severe talking-to) to complete thirty minutes, burning off no fewer than 428 calories in the process.
I was so excited by this feat that when I reached home that I was determined to reward myself with a stiff gin & tonic and the smoking of a small cigar. Sadly I was thwarted in the latter quest by Alfred, the proprietor of my local supermarket/newsagent who (for some reason best known to himself) had shut up shop at 6.30pm instead of his normal 7.00pm, thus denying me the opportunity to buy another tin of my favourites.
As a result, I am feeling more sanctimonious than normal this morning because my ‘giving up smoking’ regime has extended by another 12 hours to a total 36.
Of such small steps is a successful campaign undoubtedly made.
Today, when I looked in the bathroom mirror before coming to the computer, I felt I saw less worry lines upon my forehead and a certain healthy glow in my cheeks. I reckon I now look only about 71 years of age (too bad that I’m actually 63).
From now on I’ve resolved to write down how old I look each day in the special ‘Fitness’ diary in which I record my food & drink intake and exercise taken – or rather, I shall begin doing so as, when and if I can remember where I left the bloody thing …