What's your actual age?

by Dr. Joseph Debé

The Actual Age Healthy Aging Program provides a test of a person's biological or actual age and then a personalized lifestyle program to promote healthy aging. How quickly you age is within your control! The number of birthdays you've had is not an accurate indicator of your biological age. Your chronological age and your body's actual biological age can be two very different numbers. An extreme illustration of this concept is the condition known as progeria, in which adolescents undergo accelerated aging - developing wrinkled skin, gray hair and hardening of the arteries. A more "everyday" example of this phenomenon is the apparent difference in ages of different individuals of the same chronological age. Think of people you know. Some appear to be older; some seem younger, than their years. 

If you're like the average American, you are aging more quickly than you have to. What's more, different parts of your body are probably aging at different rates. This is referred to as a loss of organ reserve, which is the ability of an organ to respond to the demands placed upon it. A person with osteoporosis can have bones that are disproportionately older than the rest of her body. This often results in disability, deformity and premature death. According to stress authority, Hans Selye, M.D., people don't die of old age. They die because one part of the body wears out. The good news is that biological aging is modifiable. Organ reserve can be restored. You can become younger!

Individual control over the aging process was demonstrated in a 1998 article published in The New England Journal of Medicine by James Fries of Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Preventive Medicine. This study evaluated 1740 University alumni over a period of 32 years. Variables examined include smoking, exercise patterns, and body mass index (waist to height ratio). It was found that the individuals with lower body mass index and healthier lifestyle habits lived an average of 6.7 years longer. More importantly, their healthspan was also increased. They suffered from less disability and were ill a shorter period of time before undergoing natural death. 

How can you know how well you are aging? The aging process is associated with a variety of changes in the body. By measuring and tracking these, biological aging is monitored. These measurable parameters, called biomarkers, can be assigned a biological age. According to researchers at Tufts University, the number one biomarker of aging is muscle mass. Biological aging is associated with a loss of muscle mass. This phenomenon is referred to as Sarcopenia. Sarcopenia causes an overall weakening of the body. The Tufts researchers listed the top ten biomarkers of aging and singled out four ("The Decisive Tetrad") as being most important. Following muscle mass, the number 2, 3, and 4 biomarkers of aging are strength, basal metabolic rate and body fat.

The Actual Age Healthy Aging Program was recently created by Dr. Donald Hayes, president of the International Academy of Integrated Medicine. It is designed to help people slow, even reverse biological aging, and to monitor the process. I have been doing this type of work for years with my patients. However, I recognized that the Actual Age Healthy Aging Program offered important innovations and I have undergone training with Dr. Hayes to become a certified Actual Age provider. The advantages of the Actual Age Healthy Aging Program are the quality, simplicity and ease of implementation of the test and program.  

Participants in the program first undergo the Actual Age Test, which measures the top four biomarkers of aging, and more. Results of the test yield biological ages in the following areas: 1. Muscle Age, 2. Strength Age, 3. Body Fat Age, 4. Body Shape Age, 5. Heart Age. An overall Actual Age is determined by averaging the five individual ages. To give an idea of what's involved in the test, a youngish 60-year-old female patient of mine had a grip strength of 24 kilograms, giving a strength age of 75 years. She scored well in the other areas, however, and had an overall Actual Age of 45 years! Clearly though, we need to work on her strength. Weak grip strength in middle age has been associated with disability in older age. The number one reason people become disabled and lose their ability to take care of themselves is a loss of strength.

The Healthy Aging Program focuses on improving lifestyle factors to improve insulin metabolism, thus improving the aging process. Although elevated levels of insulin and insulin resistance (impaired action of insulin at the cell level) are not the only modifiable factors of aging, I believe the emphasis on insulin is well deserved. Insulin imbalance is involved in skin wrinkling, carbohydrate craving and increased appetite, obesity, fatigue, inflammation, and much more. A study published earlier this year looked at the connection between insulin resistance and the development of age-associated diseases. 208 healthy men were evaluated for insulin resistance and followed for an average of six years. The men with good insulin metabolism remained healthy. One out of every three men who had insulin resistance at the start of the study developed either high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or stroke within this short time period. 

The Healthy Aging Program consists of: 1. Balanced eating to optimize protein, fat and carbohydrate intake, 2. Eating frequency to space food out over multiple small meals, 3. Daily exercise, 4. Stimulant reduction, 5. Stress reduction, 6. Vitamin and mineral balance, and 7. Hormone balance. These 7 habits of healthy aging are focused on improving insulin metabolism, which can help balance other hormones and produce other desirable effects in the process.

After following a personalized program for about three months, individuals have another Actual Age Test. Adherence to the program virtually guarantees improvement in the five biomarkers. You can reduce your biological age!