Did you know that scientists say we have two ages? No, I am not talking about the one your driver’s license says you are (the one some of us like to pretend we are) – I’m talking about your chronological and biological ages. Your chronological age is the number of years you have been alive while your biological age refers to how old you seem to be. (Have you ever met someone and thought, “Wow I would never guessed she was 70!” or “Seriously, she’s only 45?”)
On the outside the age you seem to be could be influenced by the number of gray hairs or your head or lines on your face, the way you carry yourself or the way your body carries weight, your attitude toward new ideas or your willingness to embark on new adventures.
On the inside, an important indication of your age – how old you seem to be – is the length of your telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes (imagine the plastic or metal coating on the ends of your shoelaces) that help them remain stable. As cells divide, the telomeres become shorter. As they become shorter, their structural integrity weakens (imagine frayed laces once that protective end is broken) and the cells age and die quicker. During the past decade or so research has linked shorter telomeres with a number of diseases related to aging, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and stroke.
Obviously, your biological age is very important. Chronological age? Not so much so. Sure, it was a big deal when you were younger. After all, it determined when you could get your driver’s license, buy alcohol, or vote. (It didn’t really matter how old you seemed to be when it came to those things.) But now – for the most part, at least – your chronological age is just a number. So if you’re caught in a rut of thinking a “50-year-old shouldn’t do that,” a “60-year-old could never do that” or “70 is way too late to start doing that,” get out of it now.
While you certainly can’t change your chronological age you can change your biological age. Research out of UC San Francisco suggests that through changes in lifestyle – exercising, eating healthfully, managing stress and having good social supports – you may actually lengthen telomeres – and your life. (See Chapter 2: “Counteracting Bad Habits” for more healthy lifestyle changes.) You can also change the age you seem to be, making yourself look, feel and act younger.
In other words, youth and longevity is not a matter of sheer luck. If you don’t believe me, check out my top 13 picks for looking and feeling younger.