Who hasn’t gazed upon a seemingly ageless person and thought to themselves, “Wow, she’s got great genes.” (Vera Wang, anyone?) Well, you, too, can drink from the fountain of youth...but first you’re going to need to know a thing or two about biological age, and what you can do about it. We spoke to Dr. Robin Rose—CEO of Terrain Health, author of The 28-Day Gut Fix and double board-certified specialist in Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine—for the full scoop on the fascinating concept of biological age and how it can be used to improve your health.
What is chronological age?
Chronological age is exactly what it sounds like, which is to say that it’s based on your date of birth and reflects how long you’ve been alive. In other words, it’s what most of us simply refer to as “age.”
What is biological age?
As it turns out, there’s a different kind of age—and it’s definitely worth knowing about. According to Dr. Rose, biological age refers to how “quickly or slowly your DNA cells and organs are aging.” Here’s where it gets interesting: The cells and organs that keep you going care about a lot of different things, but your birthday isn’t at the top of the list. Indeed, Dr. Rose tells us that biological age (unlike the inexorable march of time) is something we do have the ability to control—or at least, significantly influence.
Biological age has far more to do with the lifestyle choices you make—nutrition, sleep, stress—than it does the genes you’re born with. In fact, Dr. Rose says that “biological age is only 10 to 15 percent genetics—the rest is all environmental.” If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around this, Dr. Rose has a helpful analogy: “Think of our genes and how we express our genes as being controlled by a dimmer switch...so we have the power to either tone down the ‘bad’ genes or tone up the ‘good’ genes.”
Fun fact: Biological age is also half the equation of a person’s cumulative rate of aging (i.e., how fast you're going downhill relative to how long you’ve been alive)—so it also accounts for why someone can look (and feel) older or younger than another person of the exact same chronological age. The takeaway? Biological age is a big factor when it comes to your overall health, and it isn’t set in stone.
How are they different?
The key difference between chronological age and biological age is that you can actually change the latter. Biological age is also a much more reliable indication of a person’s current health than chronological age—so if you haven’t been paying any attention to it (or didn’t even know it was a thing), it’s time to start.
How can you find out your biological age?
Is all of this biological age business just a complicated way of reinforcing what everyone already knows (i.e., that healthy lifestyle choices make you, well, healthier)? Actually, there’s a lot more to it than that—namely because your biological age can, in fact, be measured and tracked with a simple blood test. This isn’t the same blood panel you’re typically offered at the doctor’s office, though. The test analyzes 41 different biomarkers in order to put a number to your cumulative biological age, while also providing a “breakdown of five different organ, or system, ages,” says Dr. Rose. The result is a highly individualized health profile that can be used to help target problem areas and ultimately turn back the clock, so to speak. Bottomline: Biological age is not simply an abstract concept, but a quantifiable biometric that has a whole lot of potential in both preventive and curative medicine.
That said, the specific blood test used to measure biological age is not on the menu at most doctor’s offices. However, you can go directly to Quest Diagnostics for the Thorne biological age blood test. The blood panel determines your immune function, lipid levels, liver and kidney health, cardiometabolic health, nutrient storage capabilities and energy metabolism, just to name a few. Still, the test won’t do much more than satisfy your curiosity unless you find a medical professional with a holistic and patient-centered approach to healthcare—most likely a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)—who can help you interpret the results and come up with the next steps of your personal health plan. If you’re interested in getting the bloodwork done, this video will tell you exactly what to do.
How can you change your biological age?
If you’re fairly certain your biological age is high relative to your chronological age (*raises hand*), you’re probably not chomping at the bit to hear the news. Still, the doctor has some reassuring words. For starters, it's important to keep in mind that your biological age is not fixed, which means it is also “not a death sentence.” On the contrary, it’s a measurement that offers not only meaningful insight, but also a sense of agency with regard to your health—and we have to admit the philosophy is kind of a breath of fresh air. Per Dr. Rose, the whole idea behind this kind of care is to be proactive and precise in monitoring patient health—a far cry from the status quo of only going to the doctor once a year, or if you’re sick.
Larger conversations about healthcare aside, a biological age score ultimately just provides a concrete picture of how your daily choices can affect your health—and most of us could benefit from such a reminder. If you're ready to take the plunge and find out your biological age, you’ll be relieved to know that the next steps aren’t nearly as daunting as the number itself might feel. Dr. Rose tells us that most problem areas can be addressed with simple dietary changes and other minor healthy living adjustments. Best of all, if you fine tune your lifestyle according to the results, you’ll be able to track your progress—and there’s a good chance you will look, feel and, in a sense, actually get younger in the process.