You have two ages, chronological and biological. Here's why it matters

Reminiscent of a scene from "The Social Network," the whiteboard in researcher and professor Morgan Levine's...

Posted: Nov 30, 2018 11:35 AM
Updated: Nov 30, 2018 11:35 AM

Reminiscent of a scene from "The Social Network," the whiteboard in researcher and professor Morgan Levine's Yale Medical School office is covered in a series of letters and numbers. She clicks the red cap back onto the dry erase marker and steps back to admire her work.

In front of her, the equation stretches across multiple lines, taking up much of the surface. This algorithm represents a new way of thinking about age.

Diet, nutrition and fitness

Diseases and disorders

Exercise and fitness

Health and medical

"In my lab, we work on a lot of different types of aging measures," Levine said. "One of the most recent ones is based on blood measures you get at your normal doctor's appointment. We basically take those and combine them using different algorithms to get what we call someone's phenotypic age or biological age."

Essentially, everyone has two ages: a chronological age, how old the calendar says you are, and a phenotypic or biological age, basically the age at which your body functions as it compares to average fitness or health levels.

"People of the same chronological age aren't all at the same risk for developing cardiovascular disease or cancer or even dying," Levine said. "What [the biological age] does is actually give us a better idea of where someone stands for their age."

"Chronological age isn't how old we really are. It's a superficial number," said professor David Sinclair, co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School. "We all age biologically at different rates according to our genes, what we eat, how much we exercise and what environmental toxins we are exposed to. Biological age is what determines our health and ultimately our lifespan. Biological age is number of candles we really should be blowing out. In the future, with advances in our ability to control biological age, we may have even fewer candles on our cake than the previous one."

Levine and her team identified nine biomarkers taken in a simple blood test that seemed to be the most influential on lifespan. The biomarkers include blood sugar, kidney and liver measures, and immune and inflammatory measures.

Levine plugs those numbers into the computer, and the algorithm does the rest.

People with a biological age lower than their chronological age have a lower mortality risk, while those aging older from a biological standpoint have a higher mortality risk and are potentially more prone to developing the diseases associated with the higher age range.

But perhaps what's most important here -- unlike results from genetic testing -- is that these are measures that can be changed. Doctors can take this information and empower patients to make changes to lifestyle, diet, exercise and sleep habits, and hopefully take steps to lower the risk and improve their biological age.

"I think the most exciting thing about this research is that these things aren't set in stone," Levine said.

"We actually know a lot about how to change some of these markers. I think we are given the information much earlier in the process, hopefully before someone ever develops disease, and then they can really take steps to improve their health before its too late."

Levine, who has been fascinated with aging ever since she was a young girl, even entered her own numbers into the algorithm. She was surprised by the results.

"I always considered myself a very healthy person," she said. "I'm physically active; I eat what I consider to a fairly healthy diet. I did not find my results to be as good as I had hope they would be."

She now tries to get more sleep and changed her diet and exercise routine. "It was a wake-up call," she said.

Levine is working with a group to provide access to the algorithm online so that anyone can calculate their biological age, identify potential risks and take the steps to help their own health in the long run.

"No one wants to live an extremely long life when they are in very poor health and have a lot of chronic disease," Levine said. By delaying the onset of diseases and cognitive and physical functioning problems, "people can still be engaged in society," she said. "I think that is the ideal we should be striving for."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 308111

Reported Deaths: 7122
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20826248
Hinds19910411
Harrison17510302
Rankin13334276
Jackson13118243
Madison9908210
Lee9871170
Jones8297160
Forrest7525147
Lauderdale7198237
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Lamar611084
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Washington5281133
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Marshall4276100
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Monroe4061132
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Leflore3468124
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Tate322782
Pike3188104
Scott310872
Yazoo304468
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Simpson288284
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Wayne261341
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Holmes186872
Clay182854
Stone179331
Clarke177076
Tallahatchie175540
Calhoun163531
Yalobusha159236
Smith158834
Walthall130643
Greene129433
Lawrence126423
Noxubee126233
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120926
Amite120141
Webster113532
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102725
Claiborne101330
Benton97325
Kemper95428
Humphreys94332
Franklin82123
Quitman78916
Choctaw73417
Wilkinson64928
Jefferson64828
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 520503

Reported Deaths: 10722
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754091487
Mobile38938798
Madison33898495
Tuscaloosa25297443
Montgomery23992567
Shelby23124239
Baldwin20652300
Lee15541165
Calhoun14301311
Morgan14145270
Etowah13665346
Marshall11967219
Houston10381278
Elmore10001200
Limestone9822147
Cullman9481188
St. Clair9435234
Lauderdale9223227
DeKalb8748181
Talladega8071171
Walker7100275
Jackson6762110
Autauga6734103
Blount6497135
Colbert6210130
Coffee5404112
Dale4766110
Russell429038
Franklin419982
Chilton4087109
Covington4056114
Tallapoosa3898146
Escambia388574
Dallas3531149
Chambers3503122
Clarke346560
Marion3066100
Pike305876
Lawrence295395
Winston272572
Bibb256459
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens233059
Barbour225255
Hale218775
Butler212566
Fayette209260
Henry187744
Cherokee182144
Randolph176941
Monroe172040
Washington164238
Macon154848
Clay149555
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146241
Lamar139334
Lowndes136553
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109128
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99328
Greene91034
Choctaw58724
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