- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Depending on how you live, your body might be a lot younger - or older - than your driver’s license indicates.

Take the new AARP version, the Vitality Compass (https://longevitycalcu lator.aarp.org), which asks about 40 questions about day-to-day activities and overall health.

After you answer the questions - which takes just a few minutes - it spits out your calendar age, your biological age and your life expectancy; and a fourth category called “your Blue Zone years,” (the difference between your calendar age and your biological age) which is basically years accrued or taken off because of your lifestyle habits and overall health.

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“It’s great to see a direct link between vitality and behavioral changes,” says Jim Dau, spokesman for AARP.

“I think it can be very useful as more and more people are concerned about being able to afford health care,” he says. “They are looking for ways to lower health care costs and take personal responsibility for their health. This can help.”

Dr. Thomas Perls, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the New England Centenarian Study, has a similar life expectancy calculator (www.liv ingto100.com).

In addition to questions on food choices and exercise, it also focuses on the mental side of things: outlook on life, coping with stress and closeness to family and friends.

“It’s uncanny how well people who live to 100 manage stress,” Dr. Perls says.

Turns out that managing stress can be just as important as regular exercise, he says. Although it’s hard to tease out one from the other, because many people who get regular exercise also are better at managing stress.

“Mathematically, these things are intertwined,” Dr. Perls says. “But overall, members of families that are low on neuroticism live longer.”

Another predictor of longevity for women is having children later in life - providing that the pregnancy was not aided by fertility treatments, he says.

“It’s a great marker of aging slowly,” Dr. Perls says.

In other words, having a baby in your late 30s or 40s can be an indicator that your reproductive system - along with your entire body - are aging more slowly than the average person; therefore you have an increased chance of living longer.

Another Web site for assessing biological age versus chronological age is www.re alage.com, started by Dr. Michael Roizen, an internist, anesthesiologist and chairman of the Cleveland Clinic.

Dr. Roizen cautions, though, that even if you are biologically younger than the age on your driver’s license, there is no way to actually predict how long you’ll live.

“We can change the rate of aging by making changes to our habits, but we can’t tell you what age you’re going to reach,” Dr. Roizen says. “Predicting longevity is not scientifically valid. You are at risk of dying at any age.”

On the other hand, if longevity calculators can motivate people to take care of themselves on a day-to-day basis, he’s all for it.

“What you do makes a huge difference,” Dr. Roizen says, adding that his calculator will help users find out what those daily changes should be.

“You can find out ways to look, feel and actually be younger,” he says.

For example, if your blood pressure goes uncontrolled, it can age you by several years: A 47-year-old whose blood pressure is normal at 115/75 is biologically six years younger than a 47-year-old whose blood pressure is 140/90, he says. In other words, the latter is biologically 53 years old.

“You either have the arteries of someone who is 53 or someone who is 47,” Dr. Roizen says. “And that makes a big difference.”

But while the calculators and their health-improving suggestions are all about improving the rate of aging, the message is different from that of the commercial anti-aging industry, Dr. Perls says.

“I’m an outspoken critic of the anti-aging industry,”he says of an industry that often makes claims that aging can be stopped with hormone treatments, plastic surgery and other treatments and procedures.

“We need to be truthful and realistic about aging,” Dr. Perls says. “There is no stopping or reversing aging, but if you take care of yourself you can age very well.”

And, apparently, for a long time.

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