Getting older is a fact of life. However, did you know there are certain habits that can speed up your “biological clock”? Here is a brief look at what determines biological age and the habits to avoid so your body can age better.
To start, it’s key to understand that there is a difference between your chronological age — which is based on your birthdate — and your biological age. Biological aging refers to gradual, accumulative damage to various cells and tissues in the body. Also known as physiological aging, this determination looks inside your body at cellular processes involving the telomeres and DNA methylation to establish the degree.
Telomeres are the nucleotides located on each end of chromosomes. They are meant to prevent deterioration and fusion with nearby chromosomes. When telomeres are damaged, they become shorter and shorter until the cell eventually dies. What causes such damage? Drinking excessively sugary sodas, chronic levels of stress, lack of exercise, environmental influences and other biochemical factors can all damage cells and DNA. These are referred to as epigenetic changes.
While a person’s chronological age shortens their telomeres, bad habits can lead to premature shortening, which contributes to early aging. The good news is that unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence. The bad news is that they can change how your body “reads” a DNA sequence, which can have ill effects on aging.
Another method to determine biological age is through DNA methylation. This biological process is an epigenetic mechanism by which chemical groups — methyl — are added to DNA. The mechanism works to “read” and control gene expression. Gene expression refers to when or how often proteins are created based on genetic instructions. In essence, epigenetic changes affect gene expression by turning genes “on” and “off.” This is needed for normal bodily functions, including the natural cycles of cellular death, renewal and senescence.
These two processes are complex but are tied together by epigenetic changes resulting from the environment, heredity and certain behaviors, such as diet and exercise. Although scientists and health professionals are still unraveling the inner workings of the connection, they have uncovered that certain lifestyle choices can affect the composition and location of the chemical groups that are binding to our DNA.
While aging is mostly out of our control, there are many approaches to aging healthily. It’s important to develop beneficial habits throughout life and minimize our vices, such as smoking and alcohol. Not getting enough sleep, exercise and stress reduction
Instead of dreading the inevitable passage of time and its subsequent effect on your body, do more about it. For more information on bad habits and their biological effects, please see the accompanying resource.