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Researchers from SDU: We are living longer and ageing slower

Humans’ biological age would previously be determined from biomarkers in blood samples and fitness tests, and even photos. New research shows that elderly Danes today look younger at a given age than those of 10 years ago at the same age.

By Majken Brahe Ellegaard Christensen, , 5/15/2019

Back in 2002, researchers from SDU concluded a study in which a group of people looked at 382 photographs that were recently taken of people aged 70-90 years old. The group had to guess how old the people in the different photos were.

The correct average age was just under 76 years old, and the group mostly guessed correctly.

10 years later, the same photographs were shown, and the group were again asked to guess the age of the people they saw in the pictures. This time, the average age of the group's guess was just under 79 years old - that is, nearly 3 years higher than the first group's guess.

Danes are healthier, believe researchers

In 2012, the people from the photographs in 2002 were estimated to be older than they really were. The group who had looked at the pictures were of the impression that more years should have passed before one looked as the people in the pictures did.

One of the reasons that the age of the photo models was judged higher in 2012 is that Danes today live longer and are healthier. This is according to researcher Ulrich Steiner from the Department of Biology.

-We are living longer, and this increased lifetime goes hand in hand with changes in how we live. We are getting more and more healthy years of life, he says.

Expectations and data go together

The group from 2012's guess of just under 79 years old has turned out to correspond with the increased lifespan Danes can expect to have. In 10 years, the expected lifespan of Danes has increased by 2.5 years, which accords with the just under 3 years which the average guess had increased by between 2002 and 2012.

-We were surprised to find such a close connection between how old people look and how long they are expected to live, says Steiner.

In 2012, the average lifespan for men was approximately 78 years, while for women it was around 4 years longer. Going back 10 years in time, these numbers were 2-3 years lower (3 years for men and 2.25 years for women, respectively).

The study also showed that in general the estimates of men's ages were less off the mark in 2012 (only 2.6 years wrong), while the judged ages of women were up to 3 years out.

Help to determine people's ages online

The research is part of SDU's Citizen Science Project about ageing. The project is called AgeGuess and is directed by researchers from SDU.

On the website AgeGuess the Danes can participate in guessing a person’s age. Data will subsequently be used by the researchers.

The study "Parallel progress in perceived age and life expectancy " is published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. 

Meet the researcher

Ulrich Steiner is associate professor at Biological Institute at SDU.

Editing was completed: 15.05.2019