Biological age: how old are you really??

Even with small adjustments to your habits, you can minimize your biological age and delay your time of death – supposedly. A personal self-assessment of a editor.


How old am I?

Normally everyone can easily answer this question. Sometimes even down to the minute, if parents have carefully kept birth records. At the time of writing this, I am about 231.915 hours and 56 minutes old. So a little over 26 years.

This number is on paper, my date of birth is on my ID card. But every person has not only a biographical age, but also a biological age. Many say at this point: "You are as old as you feel"." But it’s much more accurate thanks to our biological values.

Athletes who exercise regularly have well-trained hearts. Making younger. Who damages its joints however by a permanent overloading, can lose years. Factors such as diet, fitness, alcohol consumption, smoking, and exercise habits shift our biological age up or down. Even our general happiness in life influences our so-called Biological Age. Almost like DJs, we can turn the knobs.

Why measure biological age?

I came across the topic of "biological age" in Amsterdam. I was at the Garmin Health Summit, a conference of technology and health experts. Entrepreneur Brona Magee gave a talk there about our "Life Score" and explained how we can use data to track our biological state. So how fit our body is and how well our organism works. "By influencing our lifestyle, we can give ourselves time. Daily decisions shape our entire lives," Magee said on stage.

The subject of immortality has fascinated people for centuries. Alchemists wrote about life-prolonging elixirs as early as the Middle Ages. Today, scientists predict that humans could eventually live to be 140 years old. Theoretically. I’m skeptical of headlines like this.

I associate the promise of longer life with charlatanry. People’s desperate longing for extra time to live is often exploited by shady companies. For example, some people pay a lot of money to have their bodies frozen after death. Because they hope that lifeless shells can eventually be thawed and filled with new life. Like replacing a cell phone’s broken battery.

Life insurance companies use life scores

I listened carefully and, above all, openly to the speaker Brona Magee on this topic. Magee works for an international company that specializes in reinsuring life policies. Similar to gambling, where the popular saying is that the bank always wins in the end, insurance companies do their business with the exact evaluation of data and statistics. The more precisely they know the health status of the policyholders, the more accurate their calculations are. This may seem ethically questionable to some, but the fact that insurance companies take biological age seriously tells me there is something to this issue.

So I ask myself: How old am I biologically and what does that say about me??

Jorn Watzke is Senior Director at Garmin Health Global Business and is responsible, among other things, for the topic of biological ageing. © Garmin Health

Expert interview with Jorn Watzke about Biological Age

Jorn Watzke is one of the experts at Garmin Health who dovetails health and technology on the modern sports and lifestyle watches. Watzke, a passionate recreational athlete, says he is "biologically" ten years younger. But what does this mean? Jorn, by your own admission you are biologically ten years younger, i.e. just under 40. What impact does this have on life expectancy?

Jorn: Even if I’m just under 40 according to my medical and athletic stats, that’s no guarantee I’ll end up living ten years longer. It’s all about probabilities. There is a table, the so-called mortality table, which shows the mortality probability per age depending on the place of life and gender. The likelihood that I’ll be in my 50. The proportion of people who die before the age of 50 is about 0.5 percent. In contrast, this value drops to 0.2 percent for a biological 40-year-old. Of course, I can still suffer a heart attack tomorrow, have an accident, or become terminally ill with cancer. But by my lifestyle I can increase the statistical chances, so that exactly this does not happen. How valid are biological age theories??

Jorn: The first insurance companies work with these values. These companies wouldn’t do that if there wasn’t a sound basis for it. The Biological Age models are based on various studies and statistics. We can trust them, although there is always room for optimization. How can we influence our biological age the most??

Jorn: In addition to more exercise and a healthier diet, smoking is especially crucial. If you’re a smoker until you’re 35. If you stop smoking at the age of 15 and don’t smoke for about 15 years, you can even come close to making up for the damage you’ve done. At least that is what studies suggest. What Garmin Connect data reveals about our biological age?

Joern: We can very validly indicate the so-called fitness age on Garmin watches. This is based on fitness level of VO2max and is a measure of cardiorespiratory fitness. This describes the ability of our circulatory and respiratory systems to supply the skeletal muscles with oxygen during sustained physical activity. Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between VO2max and the individual probability of dying.

Other relevant data for biological age that users can record with Garmin include resting heart rate, recorded performance data during exercise, sleep habits, as well as daily step count and our stress level. What is missing is medical data such as cholesterol levels. Also, Garmin users could theoretically record their lifestyle habits. But we know it ourselves: With some data like alcohol consumption, we don’t always stick to the truth. But this is a condition for valid data.

Biological age: a first online evaluation

Back home, I take an online test on the website of a well-known German health insurance company. Taking stock of my everyday life. If you want to have a first "halay" realistic estimation of your personal biological age, you have to draw a blank. Questions on six topics have to be answered as truthfully as possible.

1. Family health history

My father died of cancer at 26. My maternal grandma caught a rapidly growing tumor in her lungs. Grandma was a non-smoker. Not good. Pre-existing conditions in close family say something about our gene pool and our susceptibility to disease. In the biochemical lottery of the cancer war, I have probably drawn a few more lots than others. At least findings from twin research are reassuring. Supposedly, only 20 percent of the speed at which we age is influenced by genes. The rest is personal responsibility.

2. Our eating habits

Plenty of vegetables, fruit and fish are good. A lot of sausage and meat rather bad. Fish is especially important for the body, providing us with omega-3 fatty acids. These fats provide our body with the harmless HDL cholesterol. Unlike LDL cholesterol, these substances do not calcify our arteries. In addition, HDL cholesterol ensures that blood fats can be transported to the liver and broken down there.

I love fish. As a child of the coast, the superfood herring was part of my growing up experience. But I was taught by my parents the misconception that you can only get good fish directly on the coast. I haven’t lived there for a few years now. The second problem: My mother runs a butcher’s shop that supplies me with salami and ham by pipeline. My BMI is therefore no longer the best one.

3. Our consumer behavior

Alcohol, smoking, extensive sunbathing – in excess, everything is a massive health hazard. Excessive sunbathing destroys skin cells and paves the way for some serious diseases. Cigarette consumption tars the lungs and weakens the whole organism. Alcohol may promote moments of euphoria, but it mainly kills cells. I don’t like to sizzle in the blazing sun, nor do I smoke. But one less after-work beer still wouldn’t be bad.

4. Our regular exercise

I used to run about 50 kilometers a week and lift a lot of iron in the gym. But since the job dominates the everyday life, my movement rations have melted noticeably. An active lifestyle with at least three sports or exercise sessions per week is enormously beneficial for our biological youth. If you move less often, you increase your own probability of dying.

5. Sleep, stress and happiness

This is where the data from my Garmin watch comes in: I sometimes sleep little and not always well. Not seven hours a night on average. That is too little. My stress level is not only high at work, but also reaches high levels on weekends when I should be relaxing. During soccer Saturday and football Sunday, I glow with constant tension.

Happiness in life: I am satisfied with the way things are going. And: In the last two and a half years I have only missed three days of work. My immune system cannot be that bad.

6. Measurable biological data

My LDL cholesterol levels were slightly elevated at my most recent health checkup. I also "suffered" from marginally elevated high blood pressure at that time. I did not need beta blockers to lower it. Everything still within limits.

After answering all the questions, I get the result:

Biologically I am three years older, 29 years. I do not like that. My chances of dying in the next year increase by about 0.5 percent, according to statistics. Numbers do not lie. If I go on like this, I probably won’t be running any marathons when I’m 60. My lifestyle tends to increase the risk of being confronted with cardiovascular problems or other illnesses sooner. What if the bowl of cereal with fruit instead of the salami tulle actually gives me a few minutes? In the long run, minutes become hours and hours become days.

How does this knowledge help in everyday life?

My "Life Score" sensitizes me to questions that I actually don’t ask myself too often at my age. This alone makes the topic of "biological age" exciting. It shows me that I can influence my destiny, at least in theory. That through carelessness and laziness I may be wasting life time that I can’t get back. I can’t claim and return an unhealthy lifestyle afterwards. And I should know best from my family history how quickly it can happen.

By the way, after the test result I went directly to the barber and had my beard shaved. Friends say I now look three years younger again.

At least a start.

Out of the sleep debt

Many people in Germany, Switzerland and Austria have trouble sleeping. Working people are particularly affected. The consequences of sleep deprivation can be serious. But what can you do about it? In conversation with sleep expert Dr. Anda Baharav we seek answers.

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