Chronological vs. Biological Aging: What’s the Difference and Why It Matters

Dec 27, 2022

Many people connect the idea of aging with pain, sickness, and disease.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, an increasing number of our patients are looking for ways to slow down the effects of aging and increase their longevity. Or, more simply put, they are exploring ways to increase their “healthspan.” 

Thanks to ongoing scientific advances, we now have very effective ways to monitor the speed at which our bodies are aging and how things like diet, exercise, and lifestyle can turn back the hands of time. 

Chronological vs. Biological Aging

If you’re interested in extending your healthspan and reducing your risk of disease and premature death, it’s essential to start by understanding the difference between your chronological and biological age. 

Chronological age is the number of years that you have been alive. And as much as we might want that number to change, it is unchangeable. Your chronological age is also your primary risk factor for many chronic diseases, mortality, and decreases in bodily functions, such as hearing, eyesight, and memory.

Biological age, on the other hand, is a numerical assessment of the level of damage and loss of function that your cells, tissues, and organs have acquired. Ultimately, this damage will determine your risk for disease and your ability to live a long and healthy life.

Why Is Your Biological Age Important?

Your biological age is an indicator of how your body is aging and how your current dietary and other lifestyle habits, toxic exposures, stress, and other variables are impacting your health over time.1

Even though you can’t do anything about the number of years you’ve lived on this planet, you can influence your biological age. This means you can reduce the damage to your cells and improve your biological age by making lifestyle and other changes over time.

How Is Biological Age Calculated?

Research has provided several different biological age calculators using your chronological age and specific blood test results. Dr. Steven Horvath and his team developed one of the most well-researched biological age calculators, the epigenetic clock.2

At the core of Dr. Horvath’s research and the research behind the other biological age calculators is the theory that changes in your genetic material are the key component in measuring biological age, and that by measuring these changes, we can assess how our health interventions impact our aging.  

Understanding the science of epigenetics is essential to fully appreciate how biological aging calculations work.3

What Is Epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the study of how our environment and behaviors impact how our genes work. 

Epigenetics looks at the biochemical layer on top of our DNA, which helps regulate how the body uses our genetic material4. In other words, depending on the epigenetic patterns on a particular gene, that gene may be “turned on” for use by the body or “turned off” and not used by the body. 5

For example, as we age, we want to turn on genes that fight cancer or other diseases and turn off (or turn down) those that promote inflammation. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what typically happens as our chronological age increases. But by understanding how epigenetic changes affect which genes are turned “on” or “off,” we can connect how our environment and behavior impact our genes. 

DNA Methylation & Aging

The most prominent and well-researched epigenetic mechanism is DNA methylation.

Although methylation is a simple biochemical process – it’s the transfer of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms from one substance to another – it significantly impacts many biochemical reactions in the body5. Methylation helps regulate the activity of the cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and detoxification systems, including those related to:6

  • DNA production
  • Estrogen metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter production
  • Detoxification
  • Liver health
  • Cellular energy
  • Fat metabolism
  • Eye health
  • Histamine metabolism    

What all of this is telling us, is that your epigenetics change as you age and that these changes can impact your health in a variety of ways, including your susceptibility to infections and certain types of cancers.  7,8

Why Is DNA Methylation Important For Aging?

Simply put, methylation decreases with age and disrupts cellular function so that cells can no longer efficiently do their jobs. This cellular decline in efficiency is believed to be the underlying cause of aging signs, including changes in skin tone and texture, the appearance of wrinkles, changes in hair color, increased joint pain, and so on.9

How To Improve Your Biological Age

One of the most exciting things about epigenetics research and DNA methylation is that epigenetic patterns are modifiable, and methylation sites appear to adjust rapidly to environmental inputs. So, once you know your biological age, you can identify options to potentially lower your biological age, including:

Diet: Biological aging nutrition research suggests that a nutrient-dense diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains can lower your biological age10. In addition, I always recommend that my patients limit their intake of sugar, alcohol, and “chemical foods” (aka. processed, packaged foods).

Exercise: Research into biological aging has identified a connection between excessive activity levels and lower biological age; however, not all studies agree that increased exercise has as much impact.11,12 There seems to be a healthy amount of exercise that is most effective for reducing biological age - not too little and not too much. Focus on aiming for 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week.

Stress: Biological age appears to increase with both physical and psychological stress., Incorporating ways to manage and mitigate stress13,14, including mindfulness meditation, can significantly impact your biological age.

Sleep Habits: If you’re struggling to get good quality sleep, it may negatively impact your health and longevity and increase your biological age.  Quality sleep is vital to your health, and if you get improved deep sleep, in particular, it can positively impact your biological age15. It’s during deep sleep that our bodies restore, revitalize, and repair damaged cells and tissues.

Physical Environment: Environmental toxins found in food, personal care items, air, soil, water, and dirty electricity present a real threat to your biological age. You can reduce your biological age by avoiding or reducing your exposure to common environmental toxins.16

Uncover Your Biological Age & Improve Your Longevity

Calculating your biological age and understanding your DNA methylation processes give you a powerful snapshot of your current health and what steps you can take to turn back your bio clock.

Are you interested in reversing your biological age, extending your healthspan, and reducing your disease risk? Experience Reboot Center’s innovative Total Body Reboot approach. Schedule a complimentary TBR strategy session today.

Resources:

  1. "First hint that body's 'biological age' can be reversed - Nature." 5 Sep. 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02638-w. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  2. "DNA methylation-based biomarkers and the epigenetic clock theory ...." https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29643443/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  3. "What is Epigenetics? - CDC." https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  4. "The epigenetics of aging: What the body's hands of time tell us." 26 Mar. 2021, https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/epigenetics-aging-what-bodys-hands-time-tell-us. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  5. "The Role of DNA Methylation in Aging, Rejuvenation, and ... - NCBI." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482848/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  6. "DNA Methylation and Its Basic Function - PMC - NCBI." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3521964/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  7. "Mycobacterium tuberculosis Infection Induces HDAC1-Mediated ...." 2 Dec. 2015, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26697414/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  8. "Blood-based DNA methylation as biomarker for breast cancer." 14 Nov. 2016, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27895805/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  9. "Epigenetic factors in aging and longevity - PubMed - NIH." https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19768466/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  10. "Biological Age Is Associated with the Active Use of Nutrition Data." https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/11/2431. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  11. "Deep learning for biological age estimation - Oxford Academic." https://academic.oup.com/bib/article/22/2/1767/5828124. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  12. "Leisure-time physical activity and DNA methylation age—a twin study." 19 Jan. 2019, https://clinicalepigeneticsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13148-019-0613-5. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  13. "Psychological and biological resilience modulates the effects of ...." 27 Nov. 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01735-7. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  14. "The Link between Chronic Stress and Accelerated Aging - PMC - NCBI." 7 Jul. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7400286/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  15. "Role of sleep quality in the acceleration of biological aging and its ...." 14 Apr. 2022, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acel.13610. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  16. "Dna Repair: As Influenced by Age, Nutrition, and Exposure to Toxic ...." https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.1201/9781315150284-3/dna-repair-influenced-age-nutrition-exposure-toxic-substances-ronald-hart-ming-chou-ritchie-feuers-julian-leakey-peter-duffy-beverly-lyn-cook-jack-lipman-kenji-nakamura-angelo-turturro-william-allaben. Accessed 15 Dec. 2022.

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