Are you a depressed dude who smokes cigs? If so, I’ve got some news that will probably make you feel more depressed and in need of a cigarette. According to some new research, each of those factors is aging you. Yes, even just being a guy.
Rather than only considering our chronological age (which is just, y’know, how old you are), our “biological age” might be a better indicator of our overall health. Certain activities might not only make us feel or look older, but they can actually cause our cells and DNA to age more quickly, as well. In a study published in eLife, researchers at Amsterdam UMC in the Netherlands and Virginia Commonwealth University in the U.S. attempted to assess some of the specific factors that increase one’s biological age. Among the biggest factors they found from analyzing more than 3,000 blood samples were depression, smoking cigarettes and simply being biologically male.
To discover this, they used computer modeling to measure five factors of biological aging — telomere length, epigenetics, gene levels, metabolites and proteomics. When correlating these factors to particular lifestyle habits and illnesses, they found that some impacted biological age far more than others. In addition to sex, smoking and depression, body mass index, metabolic syndrome and even childhood trauma were significant indicators of biological age. As such, they believe that mental health may be just as important in determining our biological age as physical health.
But why exactly is being male such a strong indicator? Per the data, males tended to have shorter telomere lengths, or chromosome ends, than females. This finding has previously correlated with higher risk for disease and mortality, as telomeres shorten with age regardless of sex. We have yet to fully understand why being male results in shorter telomere lengths, though one hypothesis is simply that larger bodies lead to shorter telomere lengths and that men tend to be bigger than women.
There isn’t much you can do about biological sex and telomere lengths, so it’s probably best to not worry about that part specifically. If you’re male, though, this might be further encouragement to quit smoking and manage both your mental and physical health. Your biological clock is ticking.