Dying to know how you’d fare on an aging test? You’re not alone. Between online quizzes, at-home DNA tests and comprehensive blood panel exams, most people want to know whether they’re aging faster or slower than their chronological age. Because of this growing interest, researchers decided to find out just how accurate these tests really are in predicting a person’s lifespan. The consensus: Some tests are more useful than others, however, no one single test can tell you definitively how much time you’ve got left on this planet.
And the aging study says….
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, compared the results of several popular aging tests against a life-long study of 1,000 people who’ve been followed since birth. They analyzed 11 biological markers, such as blood markers, telomere length and epigenetic clocks (which measure DNA methylation levels). None of these markers could agree on how quickly a person was aging. What’s more, they couldn’t accurately predict mental and physical decline, as measured by things like balance, grip, cognitive function and face aging. Uh-oh.
The researchers were most surprised by their findings on telomeres, protective caps of DNA at the end of chromosomes that unravel as you age. These caps protect cells from aging and are thought to predict your biological age and potential lifespan — a discovery that won three scientists the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine. According to the study’s lead author, measuring the length of telomeres did not “predict physical or cognitive changes, except possibly facial aging.” Of course, you can also just look in the mirror to see how well your skin is or isn’t aging.
More studies are likely in order to determine just how helpful telomeres may be in assessing your health. In the meantime, you may want to check out the episode of Bulletproof Radio featuring Elissa Epel, Ph.D, who studies the impact of stress on telomeres and aging to formulate your own opinion.
All in all, the study affirms that one single test doesn’t hold all the answers when it comes to your health. However, that’s not to say that all diagnostic tests are pointless. For instance, a cross-test analysis may offer overlap on certain themes that will help you to know where you stand (or stoop). And while they may not predict how long you’ll live, some health measures could help you live better. For instance, metabolic challenge and food sensitivity tests combined might be the best way to determine which foods speed you up or slow you down. A full lipid panel (aka cholesterol test) is also a no-brainer way to gauge your heart health.
If you’re interested in upgrading your performance, here are a few more basic health and fitness tests (also available at the Bulletproof Labs) that could help you assess what lifestyle choices are and aren’t working:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): This test measures minimum energy needed to sustain vital functions while at rest, aka, how many calories you’d burn if you did nothing. This is a helpful test to take out of the gates because it’s used as a baseline.
Body Composition Analysis (BCA): Lean body mass is the most general form of BCA and it includes details on non-fat tissues, muscle, and bone. The specifics will sound like Intercellular water, Extracellular water, Total Body water, Dry Lean Mass, Body Fat Mass, Visceral Fat Area, Lean Body Mass, Body Weight, Skeletal Muscle Mass, Body Segment analysis (arms, legs, trunk, etc.).
Mood and emotions: With technological advances, you can now track your mood with your phone. The T2 Mood Tracker is a downloadable app that allows you to monitor your mood by rating it with a simple swipe. Your data then feeds into graphical analyses so you can see your mood over time. You can also add notes about what was happening at certain moments. This can be a great way for you and your doc to get an accurate snapshot of your mood at specific times, as opposed to how you’re feeling at the doctor’s office.
Sleep quality: Sleeptracker® 24/7 is a popular app that offers a comprehensive sleep analysis using the same monitors that are used in sleep clinics. It relies on heart rate stats (using your phone’s camera) and even records any mumbles you might make during the night.
Work with a professional
To get the most out of your test results, consider working with a functional medicine doc, who can put the puzzle pieces together by recommending the best lifestyle changes. The integration of these tests might be the real key—not looking at each one as a stand-alone, but in the context of each other. By working with a good doc, you two can team up as sleuths to hack another one of life’s great mysteries—you.