Following eight healthy behaviours could cut years off your biological age, which may help to keep you in good health for longer.
The Life’s Essential 8 checklist was created by the American Heart Association (AHA) to help people improve their cardiovascular health. Its recommendations include getting at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, eating a balanced diet full of vegetables, nuts and lean protein, and not smoking.
The remaining recommendations are to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, maintain a healthy weight and keep your cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure in check.
Now, in a study that will be presented at the AHA’s Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 12 November, Nour Makarem at Columbia University in New York and her colleagues have found that adhering to this checklist doesn’t only boost heart health, but could also decelerate the biological ageing process.
The researchers assessed how closely more than 6500 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) followed the checklist. This was based on them self-reporting their adherence to its dietary, exercise, smoking and sleep recommendations, while their weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure were all measured.
The team also calculated their phenotypic ages, an indication of biological age that is determined by measuring levels of chemicals in the body that are involved in metabolism, inflammation and organ function, such as glucose and creatinine.
“[Phenotypic age] provides a more comprehensive picture of how a person is ageing internally, whereas chronological age is based solely on the number of years a person has lived,” says Emma Stanmore at the University of Manchester, UK, who wasn’t involved in the study.
The team found that those who reported having the best adherence to the checklist had a biological age that was on average six years younger than their chronological age. Those with the worst adherence, however, had an average biological age that was four years older than their chronological age.
Adhering to the checklist can slow the body’s ageing process, which has a lot of benefits, says Makarem, including prolonging the number of years without illness and lowering the risk of premature death.
“People can’t change their lifestyle overnight, but progress is better than perfect,” she says. “Even gradual changes can have a meaningful impact on heart health and on decelerating the biological ageing process.”
With further research, doctors could monitor someone’s adherence to this checklist to gauge their rate of biological ageing, as well as their heart health, “thus prompting early intervention and prevention”, says Stanmore.
She adds, however, that the NHANES data set captures just a snapshot of people’s health information. “Longitudinal data [gathered by measuring the same people repeatedly over an extended period] would provide more insights into trends and changes over time,” she says.