Chronological age vs biological age: How old are you really?
It’s one of the first questions we learn to ask in school. And, on the surface, the answer is simple.
If I was born on 1st January, 1958, and we are now in 2020, then I am 62 years old. Aren’t I?
Technically, yes; going by the calendar I am 62 years old. Human beings by nature like numbers, and we like simple explanations for what are in fact complex calculations.
It’s easy for us to say we’re 90 years old and therefore old, or 18 years old and therefore young. But the number on our birth certificate tells us only when we were born. It overlooks several factors that indicate how ‘old’ we actually are.
The ageing process
It’s something we can’t escape, and it happens to all of us. The ageing process is well established in human biological science. There is a general consensus that we reach our peak human condition in our third decade of life, both physically and cognitively. After this, it’s a long, slow decline that we all experience. However, everyone experiences this decline at different rates.
The rate is influenced by:
- The starting point: The greater physical and cognitive capacity we develop to start with, the more wiggle room there is to lose some.
- Genetics: Choose your parents wisely!
- Environmental factors: The one we have some control over. For example, if you work in a hazardous environment, do you have access to appropriate protective gear?
- Behavioural factors: The one we have ultimate control over. We make decisions every day of our lives about what we eat, how much to sleep, how to respond to different situations and stress, and how much we exercise.
I’m not arguing about the science; there is an ageing process that we all need to be aware of.
However, we all age at different rates, and there is a lot of individual variation. In my experience, too many of us are told that an 80-year old should or shouldn’t be able to do certain things. But, when we do this, we are entirely negating individual variation. That’s why we should always consider an individual’s biological age when setting goals.
Chronological age vs biological age
When we measure our age based on the calendar, we are determining how old we are using our chronological age. It is necessary, and useful. After all, we want to know how many individuals of a particular generation are alive in our society. And who doesn’t want to celebrate and sing “Happy Birthday” each year?
However, if we look only at this single number, we are potentially selling ourselves short.
Biological age considers your current human performance level.
In simple terms, it ignores the calendar date and focuses on your individual traits. For example, you might be a 74-year-old marathon runner who is as fit (if not fitter) than the average 25-year-old. This may be an extreme example, but I hope it hammers home the point. Don’t be defined by your birth date or by what society expects of you based on that number.
The human body and mind is a fantastic piece of engineering, and so complicated and adaptable that the reality is we don’t fully understand how it works. Science is really making the best guess. You can’t influence the day you were born – but you can always take action to affect your biological age for better or for worse. We’ll explore some of the steps you can take or avoid in future posts and education.
For now, the next time you think you’d like to do something but the thought ‘I can’t do that, I’m too old’ pops into your head, ask yourself, ‘How old am I really?’
Would you like to know more? Need some help setting some goals you’ve now realised it’s not too late to achieve? Give our team a call today on 1300 797 793 and find out how we can help you.
Article written by Michael Quinn, The Ops Guy at The Physio Co