This was my first AgeingFit. The conference is a European event which focuses on innovation in the healthy ageing field. Rather than writing a lengthy overview, I decided on a taster to the event, based on one session that caught my attention: “Healthy ageing in action: Which strategies can advance well-being across the life course?” As the title hints, several approaches to enhancing health and quality of life as we age were discussed. I will focus on a few key ideas in this post.
Prevention is key!
A common theme amongst the different panellists in the plenary session was prevention. David Sinclair (not that David Sinclair!), the director of International Longevity Centre based in the UK, said that it was really important for governments to fund and encourage preventative measures to reduce ill health. This is especially true for preventative measures that are proven to work – those like vaccinations and health screenings. He said that “an investment in health, an investment in prevention offers a massive economic return to governments across the world.”
The UK government seems to understand the importance of investing in healthier and longer lives. It has set up the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for longevity. And the group has published recommendations to meet the government goal of adding five more years of healthy life expectancy in the Health of the Nation Strategy.
“Preventative healthcare is really a fundamental pillar of healthy ageing.” Daniel Elias Martin Herranz
Tracking for prevention
Another panellist who backed the idea of prevention is Daniel Elias Martin Herranz, the Chief Scientific Officer at Chronomics. He talked about our current approach to health and disease i.e. not acting until we get a disease, rather than trying to prevent ill health in the first place. He said that we need to move towards preventing the development of diseases, by being really proactive in managing our health. As he puts it “preventative healthcare is really a fundamental pillar of healthy ageing.”
Chronomics has built a digital platform which uses epigenetic (the way our cells regulate how our DNA is being read over time) data, to give the user insights into how their lifestyle is affecting their health, at DNA level. This helps the user to identify risk factors for ill health and develop interventions to target these risk factors. This really is self-tracking at a molecular level!
Daniel has focused on two biomarkers: biological age and exposure to smoke. Biological age (see my previous post Biological age and why it matters) is a way to quantify the rate of ageing. This could be a helpful biomarker, as it can give you a nudge in the right direction and help you gauge the effectiveness of specific interventions – like a particular exercise regime or diet plan.
The second biomarker is about quantifying exposure to smoke, using epigenetic data. This is to determine how much smoke your cells have been exposed to – not only from tobacco, but also from toxins found in air pollution.
But why would anyone use this type of self-tracking when they already know that smoking is bad for their health or that taking up exercise has many health benefits! As Daniel explained: “when we show people a number to their exposure to smoke, and they can track it over time, this increases positive behavioural change. We had people who after seeing their results, decided to quit. These tools which give consumers the power to track their health are extremely powerful.”
Along similar line, the evidence suggests that using fitness trackers, for example, can help you increase your physical activity and achieve your fitness goals.
The bottom line
There’s a whole world out there in terms of strategies and approaches we can use to extend our healthy years and live disease-free for longer. But the obvious measure is to start with prevention!
Will I attend again next year? Definitely yes and hopefully in person!