Friday, December 18, 2009

BMJ: Looking young for age linked to longer life... ahem!

Looking young for your age linked to longer life
(Research: Perceived age as a clinically useful biomarker of ageing: cohort study)

People who look young for their age enjoy a longer life than those who look older than their years, finds a study in the Christmas issue published on today.

Doctors often use perceived age as a general indication of a patient's health, but research on its validity has been sparse. So a team of researchers, led by Professor Kaare Christensen from the University of Southern Denmark, examined whether perceived age is linked with survival and important age related traits, such as physical and mental (cognitive) functioning and a molecular biomarker of ageing (leukocyte telomere length).

Telomere length indicates the ability of cells to replicate. Shorter length is associated with a host of diseases related to ageing, lifestyle factors and death.

In spring 2001, 1,826 Danish twins aged 70 years and over underwent physical and cognitive tests and had their faces photographed.

Three groups of assessors (20 female geriatric nurses aged 25-46, 10 male student teachers aged 22-37, and 11 older women aged 70-87) rated the perceived age of the twins from the facial photographs. The assessors did not know the age range of the twins, and each twin of a pair had their age assessed on different days.

Death records were then used to track the survival of the twins over a seven year period.

Perceived age was significantly associated with survival, even after adjusting for chronological age, sex, and the environment in which each pair of twins grew up. Perceived age, adjusted for chronological age and sex, also correlated with physical and cognitive functioning as well as leukocyte telomere length.

And the bigger the difference in perceived age within a twin pair, the more likely it was that the older looking twin died first.

The age, sex and professional background of the assessors made no difference to any of the results.
Perceived age based on facial photographs is a robust biomarker of ageing that predicts survival among people aged 70 years and over and correlates with important functional and molecular age related characteristics, conclude the authors.

They point to common genetic factors influencing both survival and perceived age to help explain these results.

Professor Kaare Christensen, The Danish Twin Registry and The Danish Aging Research Centre, Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

Comments (DQ)
It is interesting to note that perceived youthful looks may be associated with improved longevity. Perhaps, it's not all in the genes, since this study was conducted using paired twins. 

More important is the manner in which we respond to living and all its attendant stressors and challenges. When we cope poorly even if outwardly calm and collected, if within we are ridden by angst, ruffled conscience and unresolved stresses, then it is likely that our cells and our organs will suffer for it, our telomeres shorten at a faster rate, maybe by more rapid replication and changeover of cells... 

Note that almost every US president gray prematurely and rapidly, although with excellent healthcare, most have survived far longer than their peers! Contrast this with our politicians who sometimes resort to ridiculous make-overs to look younger, while acquiring younger wives to inflate their already overblown egos--a recent MP comes to mind!

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