Do you want to know your biological age? Attention buyers.

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Regardless of what age tests show, experts say the real key to longevity is exercise

When 66-year-old Maurice Frank of Asheville, North Carolina, opened the email from InsideTracker, a health analysis and biological age testing company, last spring, he expected good news. “I thought I would come out three to five years younger,” he said.

Maurice Frank hiking at Catawba Falls near Old Fort, North Carolina | Recognition: Courtesy of Maurice Frank

When he saw the results, he instead blurted out a four-letter word: “Which I don’t normally do.” His biological age was 3.3 years older than his chronological age. “I was shocked,” he recalls. “I thought I lead a very healthy lifestyle with exercise and diet.”

Concerned, Frank took the lab analysis to his doctor. “And he literally laughed. He said, ‘You’re okay, don’t worry about it.'”

“I was shocked. I thought I lead a very healthy lifestyle with exercise and diet.”

Princeton University physician and molecular biologist Dr. Daniel Notterman agrees with Frank’s family doctor. “I have a healthy skepticism about this measurement of biological age because I wonder what people should do.”

Notterman first heard about companies marketing biological age tests directly to consumers during a visit to his mother-in-law’s home in a Florida retirement community. Some companies use blood or saliva samples. Others are selling what they claim are more sophisticated measurements, like telomere ratings.

“She gave me a pamphlet about a guy who was coming to speak, representing a telomere measurement company,” he said, laughing. “They would measure your telomeres and then they have different elixirs that would help you lengthen your telomeres.”

Think of telomeres as a kind of protective cap at the end of a strand of DNA. As we age, our telomeres shorten. Trauma, stress and smoking can also shorten telomeres. Even a severe case of COVID can shorten telomeres.

Notterman, who has published research on the biology of aging, says that “no potion or drug” can lengthen telomeres.

How bio age tests work

For $499, TruDiagnostic will ship a TruAge “Complete Collection” kit to your home. It contains two lancets for blood collection, a blood collection card to apply the blood smear, an alcohol swab and a plaster. Illustrated instructions guide you through the individual steps.

Elysium Health’s “Index” test, also $499, is a saliva collection kit. Both companies analyze DNA methylation, a biomarker that sees scientists studying the patterns of atoms or methyl groups on genes. Methylation can turn a gene off or on.

The Bio-Age companies then feed your methylation results into a computer algorithm to determine your biological age. If your results are like most people, then your biological age is within a few years plus or minus your chronological age.

dr Morgan Levine, PhD Yale. Research scientist who developed the latest biological age test at Elysium and authored the book True Age says giving someone information about how they age can be a valuable catalyst for change.

“In the area of ​​aging, we really like to talk about the modifiability of that,” she said. “Yes, everyone gets older, but we like to think that the rate is modifiable and people have a lot of control over it.”

Levine noted that advances in technology that measures cells, coupled with “the boom in data science and artificial intelligence,” have made biological age tests more accurate.

“We don’t just want to hit some magic number in terms of longevity,” she said. “The goal is a healthier later life.”

“I don’t believe in your test”

But Notterman argues that you don’t have to spend $500 to do what most of us already know should do. “There’s nothing you can do about it, except the things you should be doing anyway: exercise, eat well, don’t smoke, don’t work all the time, don’t fight with your partner.”

dr Daniel Belsky, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Aging Center in New York, is even more outspoken about the use of consumer-focused biological testing. “I don’t think it can do what it promises.”

Belsky, who developed a test for the measurement at Columbia tempo of Aging for Public Health Surveillance Research, has been invited to join the Scientific Advisory Board of Elysium Health. But he said: “I don’t believe in their test,” adding: “We’re rushing these metrics because they’re exciting and quite exotic. You are cool. But I’m not exactly a cheerleader for this technology.”

To age with vibrancy and resilience, make exercise a regular part of your daily routine.

Belsky’s skepticism, like Notterman’s, focuses in part on the fact that using different methods of measurement produces different results. Both scientists said that analyzing telomere length, DNA methylation, CRP or albumin levels will give you a different biological age.

And while most assume that if there’s a gap between their chronological and biological ages, it happened in their later years, Belsky argues that the gap could have occurred at any point in your life. And the biological tests can’t tell you that.

“I wouldn’t pay for it,” Belsky said, “and if it was given to me for free I wouldn’t take it too seriously.”

The true anti-aging elixir

There is a “magic potion” that all three scientists have did agree.

To age with vibrancy and resilience, make exercise a regular part of your daily routine. Studies on epigenetics and exercise, including a clever 2014 study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden in which participants rode bicycles with one leg, find that DNA methylation patterns are altered by routine exercise.

Levine, the developer of the Bio-Test at Elysium, said: “Exercise is the miracle cure for me. Humans have shown it reverses disease, prevents disease, and we know it slows the rate at which we age.”

She added, when people who know she’s an aging researcher ask her what supplements she takes, “I always say, ‘If you’re not doing exercise, I don’t know why you’re so focused on it because it’s free and works better than anything else we have.'”

Maurice Frank has always been active, playing pickleball and lifting weights. But InsideTracker’s analysis led to some changes in his life. He often skips the scones at the cafe and drives past the craft beer brewery instead of stopping. And he’s lost 12 pounds in four months.

“I didn’t go cold turkey,” he says. “But I was surprised myself that I was able to make these changes.”

Kerry Miller
Kerry Miller is a book and author program host for Minnesota Public Radio and chief enthusiast for a book travel company called SirenSojourns. Continue reading
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