We have made amazing progress over the past 100 years in saving and improving human lives with the great medical innovations of vaccines, antibiotics, surgery and medicines. The impact of these innovations improved and extended the chronological age of millions of people by saving them from infectious disease, bacteria and acute conditions such as trauma and coronary artery blockages.
To continue this progress, we need to address the most complex healthcare challenge of our modern day: non-communicable chronic diseases. Chronic diseases are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths each year, and treating people with chronic diseases accounts for 86% of our nation’s health care costs. While medical innovations continue to help improve mortality with infectious disease, vascular surgery and some cancer treatments, the impact of non-communicable chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, COPD, high blood pressure and chronic pain continue to rise.
While we can’t lower people’s chronological age, there have been recent research studies that show we can impact biological age. A study of 38-year-olds found their “biological age” — the state of their organs, immune system, heart health and chromosomes — ranged from as young as 30 to as old as 60. “What we found is a clear relationship between looking older on the outside and aging faster on the inside,” said study author Daniel Belsky, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University.
Lowering our biological age is mostly a result of delaying or preventing these dilapidating conditions and their compounding effects. While some development of chronic conditions are genetic related, it is mostly about human behavior, social, socioeconomic and environmental determinants. Advancement in how we treat human behavior could have a greater impact than medical innovation in improving the quality and length of human life.
Human behavior is extremely complex. It may be hard for an active 25 year old to imagine their fast food diet will one day lead to cardiovascular disease. A 35 year old smoker may have more important priorities such as their young children, a mortgage and a challenging job. A 45 year old may know they are not as fit as they used to be, yet they can’t imagine getting diabetes when they never miss a day of work. A 55 year old with elevated blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol may always be sincerely just a day away from beginning to lose weight, increase physical activity and improve their nutrition.
How do we motivate patients to change their behavior? Would reducing our age do it? Our physicians’ concerns about our blood pressure, cholesterol, weight or that we haven’t had our colonoscopy doesn’t seem to be enough. One third of the people in the United States are classified as obese and two thirds are considered overweight. We need to keep searching and trying new approaches for treating human behavior.
What if we measured our biological age? LDL or HbA1C levels may not have a lot of meaning to most people, yet their biological age measured daily might. If our biological age calculator was a smartphone app, we could see it change during the day when we check it the 50+ times. The biological age calculator could reward us by reducing our age when we exhibit good behavior and new information is added.
What is your biological age? Here are biological age calculators that will give you an idea:
The accuracy of these biological age calculators are certainly questionable, yet if they could impact human behavior they could serve a valuable purpose.
Fixed factors you can’t change – chronological age, adverse childhood events and gender.
Long Term factors you could change – where you live, education and socioeconomic status.
Medical Screening and Vitals factors – medical check-up, vitals such as cholesterol (LDL) and blood sugar (HbA1C), seeing the dentist and recommended wellness screening (i.e., mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.)
Concerted Effort factors take time to change – body weight, friendships, relationships and enjoying what you do for a living.
Daily Choices factors could change throughout the day – physical activity, nutrition, alcohol and smoking.
Mental State factors about how you feel throughout the day – depression, anxiety, stress, meditation, laughing and enjoying life.