What are the biological causes of aging

questions and answers

Status: 02.10.2017 8:58 a.m. | archive

The age on our identity card says little about how fit and healthy our body is: our biological age can be significantly younger or older. But how do we influence our biological age? And why are we aging anyway? Questions and answers about age.

Why do we age

In addition to a healthy diet, exercise is particularly important in reducing biological age.

So-called aging research is comparatively young: the molecular biological causes of aging have only been investigated for around 25 years. One theory is that our body's own repair systems no longer function as well in old age as they did in younger years. Damage to our DNA, for example caused by smoking or UV light, can then no longer be repaired so easily by the body. The result is that damage accumulates in the body and cell function is impaired. This means that typical age-related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes or dementia can develop. More than half of 65-year-olds today have at least one of these diseases. "The problem of aging is that different diseases appear at the same time," says aging researcher Professor Björn Schumacher from the CECAD research center at the University of Cologne. Therefore, it is not about treating one disease after another, but rather preventing their development and starting with the aging process itself.

What is the biological age?

In contrast to the biographical age, which is in our passport, the biological age refers to the condition of our body. People born in the same year have developed differently over time and also look differently old - their biological age can differ by years. The biological age is determined by various factors. On the one hand, the genes play a role and thus also the predisposition to develop certain diseases. However, their influence is not as great as is commonly assumed. "Two thirds of it is up to us to reduce our risk of illness and to extend our healthy lifespan," says aging researcher Björn Schumacher.

How quickly a person ages depends to a large extent on their lifestyle and attitudes towards diet, sport and exercise. In addition, a person's social environment has a great influence on their own well-being and the ticking of the biological clock. People who live in a stable environment and have lots of friends and leisure activities are often happier and more balanced and therefore also healthier.

How do you measure biological age?

There is no simple formula that can be used to measure biological age, as many factors play a role. From a medical point of view, weight, blood pressure and resting heart rate as well as factors such as body fat percentage and water balance play a role in assessing how fit a person is. A person's physical condition can also be assessed with the help of strength tests. If you want to find out your biological age, you should first undergo a health check at the doctor.

What can I do to lower my biological age?

Those who are physically fit also keep their internal organs young. Regular exercise has a positive effect on the heart and lungs, a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats and little sugar prevents obesity and hardening of the arteries, for example. Exercise and good nutrition cannot stop the aging process, but it can slow it down. Ultimately, it is always a combination of innate conditions and external factors that determine the extent and speed of aging.

Which factors shorten our life?

Anyone who smokes ten or more cigarettes a day shortens their life by ten years.

However, we can massively shorten our lifespan through our lifestyle: Anyone who smokes ten or more cigarettes a day dies almost ten years earlier. If you treat yourself to four glasses of beer every day, you lose three years of your life. And those who eat poorly, are overweight and loll around on the couch a lot instead of moving will shorten their life by another five years. According to scientific research, sugar damages our body more than previously thought. Because it not only makes you fat, but also forms a fateful bond with proteins in the body and glues them together, as the anti-aging expert Professor Bernd Kleine-Gunk explains. These glycolization processes can lead to high blood pressure and constrictions in blood vessels, for example. Fat deposits are also dangerous, because fat is a production site for so-called cytokines. These are substances that can trigger chronic low-threshold inflammation in our body - and they in turn cause us to age. Stress also has a negative effect on the aging process.

What is Oxidative Stress?

Aggressive molecules, so-called free oxygen radicals, are produced in our body as waste products from our metabolism. They can damage our body cells. If too many of them are in the blood, we suffer from oxidative stress. The body then releases substances that neutralize the free radicals - the so-called endogenous antioxidants. But they decrease with age. The result: the oxidative stress increases. We can counteract this with nutrition. Antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables, for example. They trap the free radicals. And even red wine can help render them harmless: "Red wine activates so-called sirtuins, which are longevity enzymes. They do, for example, DNA repair, a kind of cellular house cleaning by removing the molecular waste in our cells," says Kleine-Gunk . So a glass of red wine a day can help. More harm than good, however, because alcohol in itself is unhealthy.

What influence does sport have on biological age?

Our muscle mass automatically declines from the age of around 30 - unless we counteract this through exercise. Above all, strength training allows muscle mass to grow again. Endurance training is also important: just 30 minutes of exercise a day strengthens the cardiovascular system and slows down our cell decay, or more precisely, the shrinking of the telomeres.

What are telomeres?

The telomeres are the end caps of our chromosomes and protect them from damage of all kinds, such as oxidative stress or free radicals. With every cell division, the telomeres get shorter and we age. When the telomeres are used up, the cell can no longer divide and dies. "Telomeres are something like the biological clock of every cell in the body," explains anti-aging doctor Kleine-Gunk. "But this biological clock can be influenced. It can also be partially turned back. Exercise lengthen the telomeres and that is actually good for biological aging." We can also influence the telomeres through a healthy diet.

What role does the attitude to life play?

Behaviors and social interaction also play a role in our biological age. "Alone, if I have a positive attitude, I win 7.5 years," says Professor Sven Voelpel, author and geriatric researcher at Jacobs University Bremen. A happy partnership can also help prolong life. Because tender togetherness ensures that the body releases happiness hormones that let us live a lot longer.

How old can we even get?

The mental performance of people has long been underestimated. The elderly can score points with memory skills that build on experience.

Researchers assume that under optimal conditions we can live to be 125 years. The 75-year-olds are already a lot fitter than the 75-year-olds from 20 years ago. "They are mentally fitter, they report greater well-being, they are happier and more satisfied, less lonely and perceive their life as less controlled by others," says psychologist Professor Denis Gerstorf from the Humboldt University in Berlin.

What is crystalline intelligence?

The mental performance of old people in particular has long been underestimated. It is true that the ability to grasp things quickly and the ability to remember - the so-called fluid intelligence - decrease from the age of 25. However, crystalline intelligence - general education and wealth of experience - is growing. Older people are better at analyzing complex issues. Expertise, social skills and expressiveness also improve with age, because life experience pays off. Crystalline intelligence does not decline until you are 60 or later, and never in some people. Above all, the old people who are active, play sports, are socially involved or even still work are satisfied.

How old are you really?

How quickly we age is largely up to us. Plietsch provides information about biological age and gives tips on how to reduce it. more

This topic in the program:

NDR television | splash. | 09.10.2017 9:00 p.m.