Do you think someone could guess your age? If so, how would they do it? Guessing a person’s age can be a challenge for a number of reasons. Just looking at someone is not always a reliable gauge—two 52 year olds, for example, may not look and act the same. Understanding the differences in how people age is important, especially because aging is a major risk factor in the development of many chronic diseases.
There is a growing interest in studying how to slow aging. The point is not just to make everyone live longer, but rather to extend the number of healthy, disease-free years throughout the lifespan. Scientists refer to this disease-free time as the “healthspan,” to reflect the extension of time spent healthy. A team of researchers recently started the Geroscience Initiative—a research project based on the premise that slowing the aging process can help us simultaneously treat most major chronic diseases. Because age is the No. 1 risk factor for heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes and others diseases, slower aging could lead to later disease onset and a longer healthspan.
According to a recent article, movement might be the best measure of aging across many species, including worms, flies, mice and humans. Movement is a good measure because it is complicated and involves coordination of balance, brain, strength, energy production and communication between diverse areas of the body. With advancements in laboratory technology and wearable measurement devices for humans, it is becoming increasingly possible to measure movement objectively in many different species. Once enough data are captured on movement, we might be able to better use the ability to move or the amount of movement as a measure of aging.
Although the concept of increasing the healthspan is attractive, it has been difficult to document healthspan increases because there are not universal markers for aging. Therefore, measures such as movement become important to determine if we are effectively slowing aging and therefore decreasing the risk of most chronic diseases. An unintended bonus of tracking movement is that it stresses how vital activity, in all its shapes and forms, is to maintaining health. So keep moving and add more health and life to your years.
Benjamin Miller, PhD, is an associate professor in the department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University. He co-directs the Translational Research in Aging and Chronic Disease (TRACD) Laboratory with Karyn Hamilton, PhD.