Surprising Factors That Affect Your RealAge

happy couple in bedIn my last few blog posts, I’ve discussed the effects of smoking, stress and social interactions, and diet on your RealAge. Today, I wanted to talk about some possibly unexpected factors in the RealAge Test and what the science is behind their inclusion.

Diabetes isn’t a surprise, but you may be surprised by how it affects your RealAge based on how well controlled your diabetes is. Compared with a well-controlled diabetic, a poorly controlled diabetic has almost triple the risk of heart disease. Even more surprising, there seems to be such a thing as too-well controlled diabetes. In the ACCORD trial, people at risk for heart disease had a HIGHER risk for a heart attack if their blood sugar was very low compared with the usual goal for diabetics. For that reason, many diabetes experts are backing off of medication for middle-aged and older people with diabetes whose blood sugars are usually low. In the RealAge Test, the youngest RealAge for diabetics is for an A1c (a measure of overall blood sugar for the past few months) of 7%.

Did you see a question about falls in your RealAge Test? If you did, you are over 65. Having multiple falls predicts problems – possibly because of medical issues affecting balance, coordination, and muscle strength. Falls indoors are the ones that predict mortality – tripping on a tree root while out for a hike doesn’t count against your RealAge.

Alcohol is one of the more controversial topics in the test, and one of the ones I get asked about most frequently. Is alcohol good for you or bad for you? The answer is both. People who drink a little bit – 1 glass a day (at most two) for men and a half glass (at most one) for women – are associated with less heart risk and longer life. However, it’s not clear that the alcohol is causing all of the benefit. People who drink moderately like that tend to have multiple healthy behaviors – they smoke less, exercise more, have good social relations – the list goes on. But, after accounting for everything we could, we still found evidence that moderate alcohol use has a small effect on RealAge. What is absolutely clear and not controversial at all is that excessive alcohol is VERY bad for you and makes your RealAge far older. With high levels of alcohol, the risk for accidental death, cancer, and many other kinds of death become high. In that case, cutting down or stopping altogether is a way to make your RealAge much younger.

Aspirin use was the most difficult factor in the entire RealAge Test, because aspirin has multiple effects – some good, some bad. Aspirin reduces the risk for heart disease (especially in men) and stroke (especially in women). However, aspirin increases the risk of bleeding from the stomach. Aspirin also appears to lower many kinds of cancer risk. Determining whether to recommend for or against aspirin is based on an individual’s age, sex, and risk for heart disease and stroke. The RealAge Test does, I think, a great job at estimating risk, but you should ALWAYS talk to your doctor before starting or stopping a powerful drug like aspirin. Yes, it really is powerful.

The last RealAge factor I’ll mention today is sex. As in sexual activity, not gender. Although the effect isn’t as large as we once thought, the evidence is pretty clear that sexual activity reduces the risk of prostate cancer in men. In fact, the more sex, the better (well, up to a point). Women with more frequent orgasms during sex also had lower risk of heart disease, cancer, accidents, and all other causes of death than women who have less frequent orgasms. As if you needed another reason.

In the next few blogs, I’ll give you some more fun facts about the factors considered by the RealAge Test, as well as some comments on what can (and can’t) be changed, and how long it takes to see benefits.

Read my previous blogs to learn more about all that went into building the RealAge Test. Look out next week for my next blog, where I’ll continue to discuss the factors involved in the RealAge Test to help people feel younger and live longer. Take the test, if you haven’t already.