How old are you really?

Comparing your “health age” to your biological age.

People like to joke about their age. Kids growing up too fast are “16 going on 30.” There are “old souls,” and the “young at heart.” Some of you have surely celebrated your 39th birthday more than once. None of us want to admit we’re getting old, but if you start to believe it, you could be putting yourself at risk. While you may be able to fool coworkers, you’re definitely not fooling your body.

Age vs. health.

If you joke about your age, maybe it’s because you don’t want to see the truth. The biggest problem with ignoring the aging process is that you can start to ignore real health concerns that come with age. Things like your diet, your daily routine, genetic factors, and the stress from your job can put a physical strain on your body — equivalent to extra years of age. And the older your biological age, the more the impact of that extra strain becomes apparent.

How old is your body?

Go online, and you’ll find any number of health age calculators such as this one specifically for heart health. Another, based on a Norwegian study, estimates your health age using factors that affect your body’s ability to deliver oxygen to its cells. Answer questions about your diet, exercise, and other factors to see whether the amount of stress on your body corresponds to your biological age.

Don’t get caught up in the exact number. If you’re 40, it really doesn’t matter if your exact health age is 54 or 55. What matters is that your health age is significantly higher than your biological age, and that means you should probably start taking better care of yourself.

One study by British health insurance provider PruHealth found that 20% of Britons in their survey had a health age eight years higher than their biological age. Excess weight and lack of exercise were the most common factors that drove up health age; one in seven surveyed lost seven years just due to lack of exercise. And despite these findings, 66% surveyed showed multiple risk factors, yet believed they were in “good or excellent health.”

You can’t get younger, but you can get healthier.

Most of the ways are fairly obvious. If you smoke, you should stop. If your diet is unhealthy, try making smarter menu and portion selections. Physical activity always helps, and don’t forget your brain. Exercise the mind, too.

Your body may need some help with genetic factors like high blood pressure. In these cases, awareness of the condition is key so that you can get the proper medical treatment. Stay on top of your health with regular checkups. The more you know about what your body needs, the easier you can act on it.

There’s no bad time to start.

When you’re young, your health age might not seem like a big deal. But keeping an eye on your health and your body’s health age can make a big difference later on, and it’s never too early to start making the right decisions. It’s not too late, either.

None of us like to admit that we’re getting older, but getting older certainly beats the alternative.

If your health age is significantly higher than your biological age, talk to your doctor about how you can take better care of yourself. Don’t have a doctor? Find one here.