When English poet John Milton wrote of “Time, the subtle thief of youth” in the 17th century, he probably wasn’t thinking of a high school reunion.
But if you’ve ever been to such an event, Milton’s words may have crossed your mind as you walked around the room shaking hands with classmates who had become bald and fat before their time and those who looked like they hadn’t aged a day since you last saw them.
A team of researchers led by Duke University assistant professor Daniel Belsky believes that some of the secrets to the aging process may lie in understanding the phenomenon of why people grow “old” at such differing rates.
“By slowing down the aging process we could prevent not just one disease but many simultaneously,” Belsky, a researcher at Duke’s Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, said.
Scientists have long known that what happens at the very beginning of life, in the womb, can have powerful effects on a person’s health. But what about in the interim?
In a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists tracked 1,000 people born in 1972-73 in the coastal city of Dunedin in New Zealand and calculated their “biological age” 20 years after their 18th birthdays based on a wide range of biomarkers.
In fact, researchers calculated, the “biological ages” of the 38-year-olds ranged from 30 to nearly 60 years. From the report:
The fastest-aging study participants experienced two to three years of changes with the passage of a single calendar year.
They tended to have worse balance and motor coordination and were physically weaker. Belsky and his colleagues said that these volunteers reported having more trouble with basic tasks like climbing stairs or carrying groceries.
What does this study say? What are the secrets to slowing down the aging process? What lifestyle choices age us the fastest?