Presenter: Ron Simons, Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Georgia
Unprecedented growth in the proportion of older adults in the U.S. has placed inequalities in healthy aging at the forefront of the public health agenda. Individuals often differ dramatically in their speed of aging. Some demonstrate accelerated aging and suffer early onset of chronic illness whereas others manifest decelerated aging and stave off serious illness well into their 90s. Recent research has identified inflammatory and epigenetic biomarkers that can be used beginning in early adulthood to assess speed of aging. These measures serve as “biological clocks” that are strongly predictive of age-related physiological decline, disease, and mortality. Data is presented indicating that an individual’s biological clock (speed of biological aging) is rather strongly influenced, for better or worse, by social events and circumstances, as well as level and type of happiness (controlling for diet, exercise, smoking, and BMI). Such findings support a biosocial model where the events and circumstances of everyday life influence gene expression, speed of biological aging, longevity, and quality of life.