How old are you really? Find out how weight impacts how long you’ll live.
By Hedy Marks
A birthday isn’t always the most accurate gauge of age. That’s because there are more factors than a date on the calendar that influence how old (or young) you really are. “RealAge” takes into account these factors, like weight, genetics, lifestyle and chronic health problems. We talked to Sharecare Chief Medical Officer Keith Roach, MD, and co-creator of the RealAge Test, to learn how weight can affect your body’s true age.
Find the true age of your body! Take the RealAge Test.
“RealAge is a measure of your overall health compared to everybody else,” says Dr. Roach. “So if you’re the average person, your RealAge will be the same as your chronological age. But if you’ve been healthy and taken care of yourself, your RealAge will be younger than your chronological age.” And the flip side? “If you’ve made poor choices, have health problems or been unlucky, your RealAge will be older than your chronological age,” he says.
Over 100 factors can affect a person’s RealAge. Some may seem obvious, like smoking, while others may not, such as sitting all day or being lonely. One thing’s for sure, says Roach – a lot of things that affect RealAge can also affect weight.
It’s well known that obesity is linked to some very serious health problems, including heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes, all of which can significantly impact your RealAge. For example, poorly managed diabetes can, in effect, make you 10 years older than you really are. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can add eight years and six years, respectively, says Roach. And it’s not just obesity that can boost RealAge. Belly fat, in and of itself, makes your RealAge older.
While it may not be a surprise that being significantly overweight can wreak havoc on your health and make your RealAge older, you may be surprised to learn that being significantly underweight can be just as bad – even worse – for life expectancy. A study in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that clinically underweight people have a higher rate of death than obese people. So what gives? People who are very thin may be struggling with a major health problem such as cancer, fighting an addiction to drugs or alcohol, or suffering from anorexia. In these scenarios, it’s likely that their disease is killing them and not their weight, says Roach.
So what’s an ideal weight when it comes to RealAge? “The best thing is to be in the middle – not quite overweight as most Americans are, but not Vogue magazine model thin either,” says Roach. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) raised eyebrows when it found that people who were overweight, but not obese, lived longer compared to normal weight folks. While more research is needed to better understand these findings, Roach recommends the following to his patients: “If you are just a little overweight with a BMI (body mass index) of 26, 27 or 28, I wouldn’t tell you to lose weight. But if you have a BMI of 35 or more, you need to lose weight.”
Unless you are significantly overweight, perhaps the best advice is to focus on a healthy lifestyle and not obsess over a number on the scale. Eating a healthy diet can make your RealAge four years younger. Regular exercise also increases longevity. “Going from sedentary to fit can easily make your RealAge five or six years younger,” says Roach.
But the single most important thing you can do to lower your RealAge? Quit smoking. “Smoking adds about 12 years to your RealAge,” Roach says. “Many people say they don’t want to quit because they will gain weight. But there is no amount of weight you can gain that can counteract the benefits of quitting.”
Take the RealAge Test
You know that to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you take in. There are only two ways to do this: reduce the number of calories you take in or increase the amount of calories you burn each day. Once you learn to do ... this, it will be easier to maintain your weight. More