What Happens When We Age and Can We Slow the Aging Process?
February 16, 2015
An old dogma is that we cannot do anything about how we age, it is simply programed into our bodies however, new research has identified that lifestyle choices can either slow or accelerate the aging process.
Most people associate aging with a progressive loss in different body systems, such as visual impairment, muscle loss, increase of wrinkles, decreases in cardiovascular health and cognitive function.
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Interesting research has found that the way we look can be a predictor of mortality. 387 twin pairs were photographed and female nurses estimated the twins’ ages based on the photographs. Nearly 2 years after having been photographed, at least one of the pictured twins in 49 pairs had died. Among the 26 pairs for which the perceived aged differed by 2 or more years, the oldest-looking twin died first in 19 (73%) cases, verifying that perceived age is associated with mortality(1). Another study with similar findings had physicians visually estimate the age of 1086 adult male participants at the start of the study. The ‘older appearing’ men of each age were more likely to die than the men who appeared ‘younger’ or their actual age in the coming years. The visual estimate may actually reflect aging rate and that appearance of aging is the best predictor of mortality(2) but begs the question as to can we make lifestyle choices that affect our appearance like good nutrition and exercise that can ultimately delay aging? Recent findings seem to point to the answer as being yes, and many of the studies are pointing towards gene expression to help unravel some fairly complicated biological questions.
For example, several studies once again using identical twins—having the same genetic makeup but because of lifestyle choices can influence the expression in their genes. These studies found that some of the variation in perceived age among twins can be explained by inherited genetic factors but that personal habits and lifestyle play a significant role in aging rates and even appearance(3; 4; 5; 6). These ‘environmental’ influences impact the gene expression of different aging mechanisms. It appears that aging is an interaction of the variation in the genes we are born with and the accumulation of different life choices and experiences impact on gene expression which ultimately affects aging.
A great deal of research remains to be done in the exciting anti-aging field to understand what happens when we age and to identify interventions designed to slow the aging process. ■
Shelly Hester, Ph.D.
Associate Senior Scientist
Pharmanex Global Product Research
1. Christensen K, Iachina M, Rexbye H et al. (2004) "Looking old for your age": genetics and mortality. Epidemiology 15, 251-252.
2. Borkan GA, Bachman SS, Norris AH (1982) Comparison of visually estimated age with physiologically predicted age as indicators of rates of aging. Social science & medicine 16, 197-204.
3. Robert L, Labat-Robert J (2014) Longevity and aging: role of genes and of the extracellular matrix. Biogerontology.
4. Ichibori R, Fujiwara T, Tanigawa T et al. (2014) Objective assessment of facial skin aging and the associated environmental factors in Japanese monozygotic twins. Journal of cosmetic dermatology 13, 158-163.
5. Granic A, Andel R, Dahl AK et al. (2013) Midlife dietary patterns and mortality in the population-based study of Swedish twins. Journal of epidemiology and community health 67, 578-586.
6. Moayyeri A, Hammond CJ, Valdes AM et al. (2013) Cohort Profile: TwinsUK and healthy ageing twin study. International journal of epidemiology 42, 76-85.