It's often said that you're only as young as you feel. As true as that may be, a new study shows how different people appear to age at significantly different paces. For some, they may already be on the path to old age by the age of 45.
A new longitudinal study has followed the lives of over 1,000 people for over four decades, highlighting how people really do grow old at different rates. As per their findings, some people started to display key signs of biological aging at age 45, meaning they would eventually be at a heightened risk of dementia and other frailties associated with older age. On the other hand, some people at age 45 appear to be on a totally different path when it comes to aging.
The fascinating new study was recently published in the journal Nature Aging.
The researchers gathered their findings from a unique database on over 1,037 people born in 1972-73 in New Zealand, called the Dunedin cohort, containing a broad swath of information about their health between age 3 right up to age 45. By looking for specific biomarkers associated with a multitude of organ systems, they were able to identify some key signs of biological aging – a long and slow process that might not necessarily start as late in life as you’d imagine.
“Aging isn't something that happens suddenly when people reach their 60s, it's a lifelong process," Maxwell Elliott, lead study author from Duke University's Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, said in a statement.
The team discovered that some of the 45-year-olds aged at a rate that was slower than average for their chronological age. These individuals looked younger, had fewer wrinkles on their faces, remained mentally sharp, and maintained a sturdy level of cardiovascular health.
Conversely, some of the 45-year-olds started to show some emerging signs of old age. Looking across data on several organ systems, they found these people were starting to experience some cognitive decline, looked physically older, had worsening cardiovascular health, diminished sensory-motor functions, and reported feeling less healthy. In turn, the researchers argue that these fast-agers may be at a heightened risk of frailty and other signs of old age in later life.
It's unclear what proportion of people may be fast-agers versus slow-agers. It's also not known what factors might influence the pace of aging. The researchers themselves concede that this study is only looking at one cohort from New Zealand, so it might not necessarily reflect the wider world.
All of this might sound like a bit of a grim revelation – as if some people are simply doomed to age at a faster pace than others – but the researchers hope the work could inform further research and help people navigate through the latter half of their life.
"We have a way of measuring how quickly people are aging, and our findings highlight the importance of addressing biological aging in midlife while prevention is possible and before heavy organ damage has accumulated," explains Elliott.
“These findings demonstrate that meaningful variations in biological aging can be measured and quantified in midlife, providing a window of opportunity for the mitigation of age-related diseases,” adds Terrie Moffitt, a senior author on the study.