Can you adjust your Biological Age?

Can you adjust your Biological Age?

February 11, 2019

Age might be just a number, but age-related numbers are important markers in personal finance, particularly in retirement. For example:

  • 59½ is the age at which penalty-free withdrawals can be made from qualified retirement plans.
  • 62 is when most Americans become eligible to receive reduced Social Security Benefits.
  • Sometime between 66 or 67, depending on your birthday, is your Full Retirement Age, when you can receive your full Social Security benefit.
  • In the year you turn 70½, you must commence with Required Minimum Distributions from qualified retirement plan accumulations.

These age requirements for retirement benefits, like the ones that determine your eligibility to vote or right to consume alcohol, are somewhat arbitrary. But because these age-based benchmarks exist, they often become default standards for retirement planning.

However, because everyone is unique, retirement planning should also consider one’s biological age as well.   

Chronological vs Biological Age

Chronological age is simply how long someone has lived, measured in hours, days, months and years. Biological age, sometimes referred to as physiological age, is an assessment of your physical and mental function relative to your chronological age. A 65-year-old leading a healthy and active life may be physiologically similar to the average person who is 55 chronologically. Thus, we might say this healthy 65-year-old has biological age of 55.

There is any number of ways to measure biological age, from on-line self-assessments to comprehensive medical evaluations. Most biological age assessments are based on a combination of:

  • physical condition (measurables like height, weight, blood pressure, vision, physical fitness)
  • lifestyle (exercise and diet habits, stress levels, relationship status, i.e., single, married or divorced)
  • heredity (the lifespans of others in the family tree, and the prevalence of specific diseases or illnesses)
  • location (the climate, level of personal safety, and access to health services).

Impact on Personal Finance

None of these biological age measurements are as exact as chronological age. But your biological age could be the deciding factor in many retirement decisions. For example…

  1. A biological age lower than chronological age projects to a longer life expectancy. This probability could change your retirement planning in several ways, such as:
  • Anticipating a longer life, you might need to save more.
  • Or, with the expectation of good health, you might want to work longer.
  • A lifetime annuity could be attractive for retirement income, because there’s a financial benefit for living beyond chronological life expectancy.
  1. Conversely, a biological age that is higher than your chronological one might prompt other decisions.
  • Taking Social Security at 62, rather than waiting until you reach Full Retirement Age.
  • Selecting an aggressive spend-down schedule that increases your retirement income.
  • Restructuring your life insurance plans to ensure a death benefit for a surviving spouse.

You Can Change Your Biological Age

Chronological age is immutable; the only way to change it is with a fake ID (which is both sketchy and illegal). On the other hand, most individuals can adjust their biological age through better lifestyle choices. It’s all about taking care of your telomeres.

Telomeres are protective structures at the end of our DNA strands. As we age, our telomeres get shorter. When telomeres get too short, the DNA is no longer protected, and cell regeneration processes break down, leading to cancer and other chronic medical conditions.

Fortunately, we can preserve telomere length and reverse aging at the cellular level. Dr. John Day, a cardiologist and author of “The Longevity Plan,” lists six actions that improve telomere health and the degree to which these changes can adjust your biological age.

  1. Managing stress saves up to 10 years of telomere decay. A University of California at San Francisco study found that “Those who perceived they were under the most stress for the longest periods of time, prematurely aged their telomeres by about 10 years.” Another study from the same researchers showed that meditation and relaxation techniques could reverse this premature aging.
  2. Exercise can preserve 10 years of telomere life. An English study of 2,401 twins found that regular exercising slowed telomere aging by about 10 years when compared to their non-exercising sibling.
  3. A healthy diet can reverse telomere aging by 5 years. Diets high in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, seeds, and legumes can protect our telomeres.  Sugar, processed foods, and processed meats have the opposite effect.
  4. Maintaining an ideal weight is worth 9 years. Obesity is another cause of premature aging. Excess weight causes
    oxidative stress, or “rusting,” which results in telomere shortening. Maintaining an ideal body weight can lengthen telomeres by 9 years.
  5. Sleep at least 7 hours. Sleep is recuperative. One study found that older people who slept at least seven hours each night had the telomeres of middle aged people.
  6. Maintain social connections. Social isolation is a strong predictor of heart disease and telomere shortening. Staying connected to friends and family slows the aging process.

Biological Age Is a Huge Planning Variable

Because it can’t be quantified on a spreadsheet, biological age doesn’t get much attention in retirement planning. But health and wealth are intertwined. Adjusting your biological age could dramatically impact every facet of retirement planning.

Particularly for those who haven’t been able to accumulate adequate savings, lowering your biological age could play a key role in catching up, because it theoretically expands your window for working and saving. And in retirement, a lower biological age translates to a higher quality of life, for a longer time.  v

Lifetime Financial Growth, LLC is an Agency of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. Securities products and advisory services offered through Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS), member FINRA, SIPC. OSJ: 244 Blvd of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (412) 391-6700. PAS is an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian. This firm is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS.

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