8 heart-healthy habits may slow biological aging by up to 6 years, researchers say

  • A new study shows having good cardiovascular health may decrease the pace of biological aging.
  • Using Life’s Essential 8 (diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, sleep health, BMI, cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure) to measure biological age, researchers discovered those who had the highest score had a biological age that was on average six years younger than their actual age.
  • Aiming to maintain a high Essential 8 score may not only lower your biological age but will boost your overall health.

According to a new studyTrusted Source, having good cardiovascular health may slow the rate of biological aging, which can lengthen life and lower the risk of heart issues and age-related health conditions. These findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023Trusted Source.

To explore the connection between cardiovascular health and biological aging, researchers used the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 checklistTrusted Source and measured phenotypic age — determined by your chronological age and biomarkers including:

The higher your phenotypic age, the faster you are biologically aging.

Results showed that participants with good cardiovascular health had a negative phenotypic age acceleration. In other words, they had a younger biological age (the health of their cells) compared to their chronological age (the number of years they have lived).

Conversely, participants with poor cardiovascular health had a positive phenotypic age acceleration, indicating they had an older biological age than their actual age.

The average chronological age of people with good cardiovascular health was 41, and their average biological age was 36. On the other hand, the average chronological age of those who had poor cardiovascular health was 53, and their average biological age was 57.

When researchers looked at participants’ Life’s Essential 8 score (diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, sleep health, BMI, cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure), they found those who had the highest score had a biological age on average six years younger than their chronological age.

The new research has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Heart health linked to biological aging

A person’s chronological age is when someone was born. Biological age is measured by how old your cells are and how your body functions.

“Biological age takes into account chronological age, genetics, lifestyle, other diseases, and other health things, such as nutrition,” said Dr. Joyce Oen-Hsiao, assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine and Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation Services, Yale New Haven Hospital Heart & Vascular Center, who was not involved in the study.

“A person’s biological age depends on the damage that the body accumulates over time, related to illnesses and lifestyle,” Dr. Oen-Hsiao added.

For example, if a 30-year-old male doesn’t exercise, eats a high fat fast food diet, and smokes, his biological age will be older than 30, Oen-Hsiao explained.

“However, patients who have a healthy lifestyle monitoring their health, exercising regularly, maintaining a good weight, and eating a heart-healthy diet, can have a biological age younger than their chronological age.

The connection between cardiovascular health and slow biological aging is thus related. So patients who have a healthy lifestyle and thus improved cardiovascular health will have a lower biological age…or their body’s aging process will be slower than those people who do not have a healthy lifestyle.”

– Dr. Joyce Oen-Hsiao

How does ‘life’s Essential 8’ slow biological aging?

The Essential 8 hits on every good lifestyle modification a person can do to improve their health, according to Oen-Hsiao. These include:

1) Diet: Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and lean meats and avoiding trans-fat, fried foods, and sugary foods can help to lose weight, reduce oxidization, lower cholesterol, and prevent diabetes. All of these will help reduce biological age.

2) Activity: Being more activeTrusted Source. AHA recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly.

Moderate aerobic activity includes activities such as walking, jogging, biking, water aerobics, or social dancing.

Vigorous aerobic activity includes running, spinning, swimming laps, or jumping rope. Exercise can reduce blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. It can also help people lose weight. All of these benefits can help to reduce biological age.

3) Quit tobacco: Smoking cigarettes, vaping, or using e-cigarettes have negative effects on the body, which include higher blood pressure, damage to the blood vessels (because of the toxins), and shortness of breath (due to changes in the lungs which can reduce oxygen exchange).

People who quit smoking can reduce their risk of coronary heart disease by half within a year of quitting. All of the negative effects of smoking lead to increased biological age. By quitting, a person can slow down the biological aging process.

4) Get healthy sleep: People who do not sleep well tend to have higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol, higher sugars, and lower metabolism. These effects can lead to increased weight and obesity. By getting at least 7-9 hours of good sleepTrusted Source, people can improve their cardiovascular health, which slows down biological aging.

5) BMI/weight: Many factors lead to overweight or obesity. Genetics definitely plays a role. However, lifestyle plays a larger role. Eating the wrong foods and a sedentary lifestyle all lead to weight gain.

The increased weight leads to strain on the heart, joint tissues, and other diseases, such as diabetes. These negative effects will accelerate biological aging. To combat this, people should control portions, choose healthy food options, and get active/exercise. Reducing weight to a normal BMI will slow down the biological age.

6) Cholesterol: High cholesterol usually leads to increased cardiovascular inflammation, which can cause increased plaque deposition in the heart arteries. This inflammation and plaque can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Cholesterol comes from two sources: what your body makes (genetic) and what you eat. People cannot change their genetics, but they can change their eating habits. By making healthier choices with foods (specifically to reduce saturated fats and carbohydrates and to eat more vegetables and leaner meats), cholesterol levels can be reduced, decreasing the risk of plaque forming and cardiac inflammation. This will slow down the biological age.

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