YOUR BODY COULD BE 20 YEARS ‘OLDER’ THAN YOU THINK
HAVE you ever wondered just how well you are ageing?
You might think a quick glance in the mirror would be a good indicator. But the way we look is only a small part of the picture, according to results of a fascinating experiment carried out for a new three-part BBC documentary.
Shockingly, it revealed that many of our bodies could be decades “older” than our real age.
In How To Stay Young, presenters Dr Chris van Tulleken and Angela Rippon explore concerns that poor diets, inactivity and obesity mean that many Britons are ageing “too fast”, rapidly heading for long-term illness and an early grave. In the startling series, experts from Newcastle University Institute for Ageing put eight volunteers through a series of 23 tests designed to assess their body age. Participants are visibly shaken when they are told their body is ageing way faster than it should be. The remarkable study was directed by the university’s anti-ageing expert, Professor Michael Trenell. He explains that having a body age that is higher than birth age is one reason that heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other serious illnesses are occur- ring in patients.
He says: “Ageing itself is driven by a lot of different things. Many people look well and young. But on the inside, it’s a different picture.”
However, there is good news: body age can be brought down – and once the results are in, each participant is given bespoke advice on healthy eating, exercise and lifestyle to achieve this.
As the show reveals, small changes and tweaks are enough to “turn back the clock” on ageing, sometimes by more than a decade in just 12 weeks.
Before the start of the show, each volunteer was asked to wear a fitness tracker and keep a food diary so that their normal daily activity and diet could be recorded. In the BBC lab, they underwent a battery of health checks, fitness and mental health tests to help the ever- younger scientists determine their body age.
In the first episode, we meet 51-year-old Patrick Luckie, from Essex. “He looks slim and fit,” comments Van Tulleken.
H o we v e r, NHS worker Patrick, who is 1.62m and 63.5kg, admits he is “a junk-food fiend” and regularly tucks into fried breakfasts, chocolate and crisps.
Although he is a healthy weight with a BMI of 23, his diet and lifestyle meant his body age is a shocking 73, and further tests reveal he is in the early stages of heart disease, putting him at risk of a heart attack or stroke.
He said: “Because I don’t put on weight, I thought I was getting away with eating what
I like.” Patrick consumes 4 157 calories on a typical day – twice the reco mmended daily amount for a man – and just three portions of fruit or vegetables and 92g of saturated fat, three times the healthy limit. His 150g daily sugar intake is five times the suggested daily limit, while his cholesterol level is 6.3. Anything over five is considered a cause for concern. His blood pressure is higher than it should be. Ultrasound scans of blood vessels in his neck show thickened arteries, a warning sign of heart disease. When told his body is 22 years older than he actually is, Patrick admits: “That number really made me think about my future and where my life is heading. It’s disappointing, but it’s better to know so I can do something about it.”
Patrick and the other volunteers in the series are given a 12-week diet and exercise plan.
Junk food, potatoes, rice and pasta dinners are binned and replaced by a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and olive oil, and low in red meat. Breakfast fry-ups are exchanged for porridge oats, and snacks are nuts or whole fruit, the kinds of foods known to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Potatoes and bread are ditched for beans, pulses and piles of fresh veg. Research sug- gests that this sort of healthy eating plan can reduce chances of an early death by 37%.
Participants also f ollow a specially designed seven-minute daily home exercise routine which includes squats, lunges, star jumps, press-ups and some light weight-lifting.
Their results are astounding.
After 12 weeks, Patrick has reduced his daily calorie intake to about 2 900, consuming six portions of vegetables and fruit a day, and his daily saturated fat intake is 29g, the daily recommended amount.
He has lost 3.6kg and his body fat percentage has fallen from 24% to a trim 17%. His blood pressure is down to within the healthy ranges and, most importantly for Patrick, his c hol e s t e r o l level shrunk from 6.3 to 5.1. V a n Tulleken says: “Normally, to see that kind of change we’d need to give people pills.” “I’m chuffed,” admits Patrick. “Certain things are inevitable with ageing, but I can affect how soon I encounter those, and some things I can put off maybe indefinitely.” Van Tulleken said: “Unlike birth age, with major lifestyle changes, body age is something we can reverse within a matter of months.” – Mail On Sunday