Biological Ageing: Why Some People Age Faster

Early last week, headlines hit the BBC, Time and others, about a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Entitled: “Quantification of biological aging in young adults”, the report delved into the discovery that a person’s chronological age could wildly differ from their “biological” age.

By looking at various factors, scientists at Duke University’s School of Medicine were able to determine how quickly people were actually ageing. In some circumstances the results were quite alarming. Several 38 year olds who took part in the experiment had aged so badly that their biological age was on the verge of retirement.

Speaking about those who had come out worse in the report, Duke’s University’s Professor Terrie Moffitt said: “They look rough, they look lacking in vitality.”


The international research group observed 954 people from the town of Dunedin, New Zealand, who were all born between 1972-73. Analysing 18 different ageing-related traits, including weight, gum health and kidney function, findings were noted when the group reached particular age milestones; 26, 32 and 38 years old. The results were incredibly varied, though equally surprising.

At 38, some had their biological age placed in the late-20s, while others went as high as 60. Even more noteworthy was the fact that some had even stopped ageing entirely, biologically speaking. While others had gained three biological years for every 12 chronological months that had past.

While chronological ageing is impossible to stop, it seems the hands on the biological clock can be temporarily halted. According to Daniel Belsky, who led the initial study, 80% of the factors that contribute to ageing aren’t genetic.

This means that majority of the ageing process can be controlled. It will seem like common sense, but staying away from smoking, having a healthy diet, reducing stress, and getting regular exercise can greatly help. It’s been known for years that these steps can help prolong life and make a person’s latter days more comfortable, but now it seems there’s evidence that if a person maintains a healthy life from a young age, they can dramatically slow the biological ageing process and reap several benefits as a result.

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