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Mega Trend 9: 30 really is the new 20 (for some people – determining who they are will become crucial for pension plans and insurers)

​Should lifespan be determined by how many times you’ve circled the sun? Should we determine our age based on a linear equation of current year subtracted by year of birth? What if there was a way to determine age differently; a measurement that would be better at determining longevity and/or mortality? How could measuring age differently impact mortality assumptions for pension plans or even insurers?

In a once popular Jay-Z song, he made the statement that thirty is the new twenty and with that the notion of biological age was introduced to a generation. Often growing up, I always heard that we age backwards; and the notion that as I would grow older, I would look younger was embedded in my mind. I can remember a time when my grandmother, mother, sister and I would be walking together; everyone would assume my grandmother was the mother of us all, and the fact that my mother looked like she was more like my sister always remained with me. As a child, I equated getting older with looking younger. But is it deeper than just looking younger? Could your lifestyle potentially help you to feel younger and due to feeling and looking younger, in fact live longer?

You might ask yourself how it is possible to measure how old you are based on how you look and feel; this is a concept known as biological age and it is determined by measuring certain indicators of the body’s biological condition. It is my prediction that pension plans and insurance companies will soon be using biological age more commonly than chronological age to predict the future longevity, mortality and morbidity of people.

Biological age vs chronological age

Chronological age denotes the actual amount of time a person has been living; biological age refers to a person’s physiological condition, taking into consideration effects of lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, sleeping habits, stress, smoking status or alcohol consumption.

Chronological age is used in a lot of ways in modern society; it’s a primary factor in determining the risk of chronic diseases, mortality, and any impairments to bodily functions like hearing and memory. However, if we can measure biological age, that may be better at determining the risk of many of these events.

Moshe Milevsky claims that someone could be up to 20 years younger biologically than their chronological age, and that biological age is a much be a better way of determining a person’s longevity. If this is true, is there a way that organizations that specialize in longevity and/or mortality and that use mathematical calculations in order to determine risk could use biological age instead of chronological age to predict future health and longevity?

How is biological age calculated?

There are two methods used to calculate biological age, coined by Milevsky as the “living” methodology or the “dying” methodology a.k.a. the mortality-adjusted approach.

Both methods begin with the collection of data. A researcher would first gather data from a large group of people at a wide range of ages, collecting biological samples and measurements in order to record various physiological and molecular variables (such as heart rate, blood pressure, mutations of DNA, or the presence of certain proteins in the blood). Researchers may also collect data on variables that they believe will be correlated with enhancement or deterioration of a person’s physiological condition, such as their wealth, occupation or even their appearance or number of Facebook friends!

For the living methodology, a regression analysis is then performed for the collected data against the chronological age of the data subjects. This analysis will highlight the levels of correlation of certain biomarkers and other data fields with a person’s age and will provide a methodology to predict a person’s age based on the values of their biomarkers. One area of concern with this approach is that it weighs one person against another; so your biological age is dependent upon people who are similar to you, as opposed to directly estimating how long a person would live or how soon a person is likely to die. Insurers, and pension plans would be interested in the latter, and not how similar a person in their plan or policy is to other people.

For the dying approach, or the mortality-adjusted biological age approach, we would also need to collect data on when the data subjects die. The other data fields could be the same as in the living methodology, but this time the regression analysis is performed against the remaining life span observed in each subject rather than their chronological age. Using the mortality-adjusted approach therefore gives a direct prediction of someone’s mortality based on the covariates of the model.

What does it all mean?

Is 30 the new 20? Given Milevsky’s estimate that a person’s biological age could be up to 20 years younger than their chronologic age, for some people, it could be! Determining for whom this is true then becomes the crucial exercise for pension plans and insurers who need to estimate future longevity, mortality or morbidity for individuals.

At Club Vita, we do not collect data on specific biomarkers for individuals, but we do collect a range of data fields that are correlated to lifestyle factors, such as income, address and occupation. Our VitaCurves model for baseline longevity is therefore a special case of the mortality-adjusted biological age approach discussed above. Our model predicts differences of around 10 years in life expectancy at age 65 depending on an individual’s characteristics. We could rephrase that to say that we have actually captured a difference of up to 10 years between different individuals’ biological and chronological ages.

Just for kicks you might want to know how old you are based on your biological age, I took the following 2 tests and have found out I’m about 8 - 13 years younger than my chronological age. Good times! If you want, you can try these tests to determine what your biological age is:

Truth is, we’ve already had a master lyricist tell us, 30 is the new 20![1] Maybe we should have believed him years ago, but now we have science and math to back him up, so we know it can be true!

[1] and given that high wealth is correlated to living longer lives this is especially likely to be true for someone like Jay-Z!

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