Are you healthy and fit for your age or are you aging too fast? We all age at different rates based on lifestyle and heredity, and, fortunately, there’s a lot you can do from a lifestyle standpoint to slow down the ticking of your internal clock. But first you have to know where you stand. Here are some simple ways to gauge how fast you’re aging.
Check Your Resting Heart Rate
A lower resting heart rate means your cardiovascular system is more efficient. ‘Normal” heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats-per-minute, but well-conditioned athletes can have a resting heart rate as low as the 40s or 50s because the volume of blood they pump with each heartbeat is greater due to their level of conditioning.
Why is resting heart rate important? One study published in the journal JAMA showed that people whose heart rates went up over a 10-year period were at greater risk for mortality. If your heart rate is 80 beats-per-minute or lower, you’re in a lower risk category. On the other hand, if you’re consistently in the over 80 range, you may simply be de-conditioned or you could have something else going on, like an overactive thyroid. If you’ve checked with your doctor and you’re otherwise, healthy, a higher resting pulse rate is a sign you need to improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Check Your Recovery Heart Rate
How rapidly your heart rate recovers after exercise is another indicator of heart health. Your nervous system controls how rapidly your heart slows down after exercise, specifically two opposing parts called the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. If your heart rate recovery after exercise is slow, it could indicate an imbalance between these two systems. This could make you more susceptible to heart problems or sudden death.
After your next cardiovascular workout, take your pulse rate for 15 seconds right after stopping. Multiply by 4 to get the number of beats per minute. Wait exactly one minute and check your pulse rate again. Multiply by 4. If you have a good recovery heart rate, the difference between the two numbers should be 18 or greater. This means your heart recovered quickly from the stress of exercise. That’s a sign of a healthy heart. The good news? Regular cardiovascular exercise improves your recovery heart rate.
Check Your Sense of Smell
It’s normal for your sense of smell to diminish somewhat with age, but difficulty identifying items based on their smell can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. That’s because areas of the brain that process odors are often the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Put on a blindfold and have a friend place various aromas under your nose to see if you can name them. You can use any items that have a distinctive aroma like a lemon, peppermint, vinegar, a rose etc. You should be able to identify each item by smell. One word of advice. Make sure your sinuses aren’t clogged beforehand.
Check Your Height
If you’ve lost a significant amount of height since early adulthood, it may be a sign of silent spinal fractures due to loss of bone density. Measure your height and compare it to your height at the age of 25. If you’ve lost more than 1.6 inches in height over the years, your risk of harboring a silent spinal fracture due to bone loss is higher. Check your height yearly and keep a record of it. Most people lose less than half-an-inch every 10 years after the age of 40. More than that should raise a red flag.
Measure Your Waistline
A large waistline is a warning sign that you’re carrying around too much visceral fat. Visceral fat is deep belly fat, the kind that increases your risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Unlike superficial belly fat that you can pinch, visceral fat produces inflammatory chemicals that speed up the aging process and increase your risk for health problems.
If you’re female and your waistline measures more than 32.5 inches, your risk for health problems is greater. For men, greater than 40 inches is a concern. To measure your waist circumference correctly, feel for the top of your hipbone, or iliac crest. Place the measuring tape just above this point. Pull the tape taut but not so tight that it indents the skin. Take the measurement at the end of expiration.
The Bottom Line?
Try these simple tests at home to see if you’re aging faster than you should. Then take steps to improve your “scores.” That includes getting enough calcium to protect your bones and regular cardiovascular and strength-training exercise. Of course, diet is an important factor too. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet of mostly whole foods to keep your cells healthy and slow down how fast they age.
Eur Heart J (2012) doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehs260.
JAMA. 2012;308(22):2405-2406. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.64751.
Medscape Family Medicine. “Height Loss in Older Women May Signal Vertebral Fracture”
World Health Organization.
More Magazine. January 2013. “Are You Aging Too Fast?”