Physiological Age: The Age That Matters

By Palina Piankova

“You should worry about inner beauty!”

Isn’t that what all mothers had to say at some point? Now, what if I told you that science agrees? Science agrees that a distinction exists between chronological age (the one marked by your birthday cake) and physiological age (determined by how well your body functions). This “inner beauty” (aka the physiological age) is the one that will carry you through retirement. It is the one that affects your longevity. Physiological age can be greater than the chronological one in the case of poor lifestyle choices, or on the opposite, can be found to be remarkable with good ones.

With the era of personalized health care moving upon us, many institutions have generated “calculators” that will estimate this “body age” based on a series of parameters that can be obtained from patient blood samples.

More and more, medicine agrees that patient standard care should be tailored to this physiological age. What can the body take on? How vulnerable it is to different stressors?

There is a normal increase in the body’s vulnerability state that appears with age, but it appears at different rates in different people based on the overall fitness of the body. Here, “fitness” does not refer to the number of benches presses you can do, but rather to how efficiently your body can work. This increased vulnerability increases the physiological age.

One of the factors that contributes to this normal decline as a result of age is known to the medical field as “frailty”. How fragile is your body? Can it easily break under pressure like a vase, or is it resistant as a rock?

Several scales attempt to quantify frailty. They include physical and cognitive components that yield in a score that can predict patient mortality after a year as an example.

Frailty indirectly permits to assess this physiological age and guide patient intervention. Will your body resist to the stress of an aggressive open-heart surgery, or will it rather prefer a more gentle approach?

In some cases, these less invasive approaches can buy you more time, but less autonomy in your daily activities. Or it can even buy you no time at all… There is a trade off to make. Time, quality, and the physical ability to withstand stress, all must be weighed in for the optimal clinical decision.

So how do you become strong on the inside, and ensure yourself more chronological years to follow, and increased vitality to (hopefully) enjoy your early retirement?

Again, mothers know best: eat well and exercise. No spoilers there! No secret trick, no Botox for the “insides”, no cheating is possible.

Your physiological age isn’t the one you can go against. Your body will remember, such is life. Science can do its best to quantify and estimate the phenomenon, and help tailoring health care interventions, but it cannot stop it, or turn the clock backwards.

The hope is to stay aware of such concepts and act in time by focusing on our “inner beauty”. Sixties can become the new twenties!

Thanks Mom.

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