More than ever before, individuals in our society are preoccupied with looking young. We can see it through the billions of dollars spent on cosmetic surgery each year, and splashed throughout the media every day. Perhaps our desire to appear young stems from a celebrity culture obsessed with age, or the fact that social media puts us all in a constant spotlight. One thing is for sure—the majority of people have a skewed grasp of the what it truly means to age—and age well.
One Person, Two Ages
Many are shocked when we tell them that counting up birthdays isn’t the only way to determine age. While the number of years a person has spent on Earth is indeed one of their ages, called chronological age, there’s another category of aging, too.
Morgan Levine from Yale Medical School spoke with CNN to describe our second age, biological age (also known as phenotypic age). “What [the biological age] does,” she says, “Is actually give us a better idea of where someone stands for their age.”
To explain with an example, consider a group of ten 50-year-old males. All of them have the same chronological age, but not the same biological age. They do not each have the same risk for cardiovascular disease, dementia, and other causes of death, for instance. Their probability of death varies depending on genetics, lifestyle factors, and prior medical history. Variables like these are responsible for biological age.
Recently the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar took a metabolic aging test during the national “Weigh Your Age” campaign. The test revealed that his chronological age of 40 years old differed greatly from his metabolic age of 53. In this article by the Independent.ie, Leo was reportedly shocked, as he is a health-conscious fitness fan and is quite active. Lucky for Leo, he has the ability to decrease his biological age, but the question is, what metric is best to track and follow decreases in biological age?
Aortic Stiffness, a Measure of Biological Age
Of course, the immediate follow-up to discovering the concept of biological age is, “But how is it measured?” The aorta, the primary artery through which the heart’s left ventricle pumps blood to the remainder of the body, can vary in stiffness. This level of “stiffness” is measured most accurately with aortic pulse wave velocity (AoPWV) and is an incredible predictor of overall wellness and biological age.
Research published in peer-reviewed journals has demonstrated links between aortic stiffness and the risk for developing heart disease, the leading cause of death around the world. In hypertensive patients working with their doctors to keep their blood pressure at a healthy level, aortic stiffness has been proven an effective indicator of cardiovascular risk. The American Journal of Geriatric Cardiology published a 2002 study specifically highlighting the importance of aortic stiffness in elderly populations.
However, the utility of aortic stiffness as a predictor doesn’t stop at heart disease. According to studies published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and the Internal Medicine Journal, aortic stiffness levels may also predict (and even cause) the onset of dementia in older adults. In fact, aortic stiffness is the only known reversible factor capable of indicating dementia risk.
Those who continue to doubt aortic stiffness as an indicator of biological age may be swayed by additional research identifying aortic stiffness as an overall predictor of mortality in addition to a predictor of fatal cardiovascular events. In the simplest terms, a stiffer aorta has been associated with an increased chance of death.
The good news? Aortic stiffness is reversible with the right lifestyle changes, including an improved diet and an increase in aerobic exercise, and lowered stress levels.
Tools of the Trade
Understanding the importance of aortic stiffness as an indicator of biological age is one thing, but measuring aortic stiffness in concrete terms is another matter entirely.
The SphygmoCor device is considered by the medical community to be the gold standard of aortic stiffness measurement. It’s used largely in research laboratories to provide scientists with the most accurate data, and it costs roughly $25,000.
Newer tools are in development, too, like the laser doppler vibrometer currently being used in European clinical trials. This innovative technology is about the size of a hairdryer, which is much more portable than SphygmoCor products. However, its usefulness is expected to be limited to professional settings rather than for individual, at-home use.
Measuring aortic stiffness is simple for medical professionals and researchers who have access to the latest advancements in biomedical technology, but what about the consumer?
We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to take wellness into their own hands by monitoring their aortic stiffness and biological age, regardless of their access to healthcare. Effective and affordable, the iHeart Internal Age™ system’s portability and ease of use are empowering those searching for a way to get healthy and live longer. Free shipping in North America automatically added to the cart, free shipping to Europe this week with code EUFREESHIP