A long-term human health study in New Zealand has found a panel of 18 biological measures that may be combined to evaluate whether people are aging faster or slower than their peers. Findings from the study appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study investigators from the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, and New Zealand conducted the Dunedin Study tracking over 1,000 people born from 1972–1973 in the same town from birth to present. Blood pressure and liver function were regularly monitored, along with other assessments and interviews. For the regular reassessment of the study population at age 38, the team evaluated kidney, liver, lungs, metabolic, and immune system functions. In addition, they measured HDL levels, cardiorespiratory fitness, lung function, length of telomeres, dental health, and the condition of blood vessels at the back of the eyes.

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Each participant was given a “biological age” based on a subset of these biomarkers ranging from under 30 to nearly 60 years in the 38-year-old participants. An analysis of the 18 biomarkers at age 26, 32, and 38 showed most participants aged at a rate of one year per year, but others seemed to age as fast as three years per chronological year. Many participants were found to stay younger than their actual age by aging zero years per chronological year.

Data also showed study participants who appeared to be older in biological aging performed worse on balance, coordination, and problem solving tests typically given to people over age 60. These biologically older adults experienced more difficulties with physical functioning than their peers.

Study findings suggest that aging itself has to be a therapeutic target if prevention of multiple diseases at once is the goal.

For more information visit Duke.edu.