Could super-agers slim down the vast amount the NHS spends on obesity? – Telegraph.co.uk

February 20th, 2020 3:49 pm

An elderly lady hears a knock at the door. Thinking its Meals on Wheels, she opens it to find a bloke dressed in blue, wearing a red cape with his pants on over his tights and claiming to be Clark Kent. She stares at him in bafflement.

Superman! he cries.

She looks him up and down, doubtfully. Ill have the soup, please, she says.

I tell this partly because its silly and makes me laugh aloud, partly to illustrate that the prefix super has rather lost its heroic allure here in 2020.

Since the advent of superbugs that dont respond to antibiotics, super rats that are resistant to poison and now super-spreaders, unwittingly responsible for infecting countless others with the new coronavirus, super-anythings are best avoided.

But how would you feel about being dubbed a super-ager? Its where your biological age is much lower than your chronological age, making you a source of wonder and envy.

We all know people who look decades younger than their peers and are far more energetic than their own teenage kids. What is their secret?

Thanks to a new breakthrough in DNA testing at the University of Southern California, researchers have pinpointed the genes present in those who remain young at heart (as well as mind and limb), despite the passage of the years.

While the outlook is bright for these veritable Benjamin Buttons who stay active long past retirement, they are the exception rather than the rule. Scientists found that some individuals had a body age 40 years older than their real age. In one instance a 66-year-old was found to have a biological are 114 whereas a 59-year-old had a body age of 23.

But the good news is that genetics alone dont dictate health and longevity or, indeed, healthy longevity. Lifestyle is arguably an even more crucial factor and improving it will reverse ageing.

With 29 per cent of adults in England obese, and a further 35 per cent overweight, a horrifying 64 per cent, the majority of the population is fat, according to the NHS.

No wonder its buckling under the burden; in 2017/18, there were 711,000 hospital admissions where obesity was recorded as a primary or secondary diagnosis, a figure up 15 per cent. Yes, thats up 15 per cent from 2016/17. Overeating is a homegrown epidemic raging out of control.

Maybe super-aging as a concept, as a goal, could provide a positive incentive to those battling with weight? It certainly shook me from my complacency.

A few years ago, I interviewed metabolic experts at Newcastle University, who were taking part in the fascinating BBC Series, How To Stay Young, in which a cross section of ordinary people had their body age measured. In every case, it was far older than their birth age, due to poor diet and too little exercise.

Purely in the spirit of research, I gamely went through the same tests and discovered I had a biological age of 70, compared to my actual age of 51. This shocking differential was down to my weight, which was placing me at increased risk of diseases like cancer, dementia and type 2 diabetes.

I was gutted. Mortified. In tears and deeply ashamed, I had neglectfully allowed a few pounds here or there to accumulate to the point where I was seriously compromising my own long-term health.

It was stupid and unnecessary. Just because adverts and voiceovers exhort you to go ahead and treat yourself doesnt mean you should. I thought I was better than that. Turns out, I wasnt.

I was told in no uncertain terms to lose weight, and fast. It didnt matter how; a crash diet was far less of a danger than staying fat. I always thought of fat as being a largely inert substance that caused narrowing of arteries and surrounded organs making them less efficient.

It turns out that fat enters every cell. It impedes healthy functioning, disrupts the metabolic processes, creates conditions that cause cancers to develop and ages the body prematurely. Terrifying stuff. But sometimes we need to be frightened into effecting change.

I know I did. And my diet journey taught me that if losing weight is hard, keeping it off feels downright Sisyphean. So how to stay focussed? I genuinely believe that turning the obesity crisis from a moral panic into a numbers game might do the trick.

Who wouldnt want to join the ranks of the super-agers? Targeted goals shed five pounds, get back eight years of health or whatever would transform losses into gains.

Warding off old age is a far more potent, life-affirming goal than fitting into a favourite frock in time for a spring wedding. Especially when you know you have last years capacious polka-dot Zara dress on standby, just in case.

I eventually lost 22lbs (10kg) in 12 weeks, slashing my biological age to 55 and halving my risk of type 2 diabetes. I was delighted, but thereafter the real work started as I have sought to maintain my new weight ever since.

These headlines about super-aging have given me a useful fillip and reminded me whats at stake. I feel its a message that urgently needs to get out there.

If more of us had the mindset that refraining from that 4pm slump brownie might be a sacrifice today but an investment in tomorrow, mine could be a generation of super-agers, skiing, surfing and bringing meals on wheels to those decades younger but far less fit for purpose.

Read Judith Woods at telegraph.co.uk every Thursday, at 7pm

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Could super-agers slim down the vast amount the NHS spends on obesity? - Telegraph.co.uk

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