Counting the years: Looks can be deceiving – take this test
No matter how young you feel, your face will give you away – that’s according to a recent survey which found the average woman looked four years older than her actual age.
But what about your body? How old – or young – is it compared with your years?
And what are the implications for your health?
To help you find out, we asked leading experts to help us put together this unique test­­.
Start by writing down your current age and then add or subtract the years suggested according to your answers.
Keep a running total and the final score will reveal your true age – then discover what you can do to reverse it.
WHAT TO DO: Count backwards in sevens from 100. If you are under 40, it should take no longer than 20 seconds. If you are between 40 and 60, it should take no longer than 40 seconds.
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: Take off two years if you’re quicker than these times. Add two years if you’re slower than these times.
WHAT IT MEANS: Our brains are made up of millions of cells which pass information to one another via connections known as synapses. The stronger and more connections there are, the easier it is to process and recall information. But as we age, brain cells start to die off and the connections deteriorate, affecting the rate at which we think and remember things, explains neuroscientist and specialist in brain training, Professor Dave Moore of the University of Nottingham.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: A wealth of research suggests that exercise, especially aerobic exercise — which increases the need for ­oxygen — benefits the brain, says Prof Moore. ‘Exercise builds up heart function and so improves circulation — and 20 per cent of the body’s blood supply flows to the brain.’
Blood carries oxygen to the brain which improves and nourishes the function of the cells and synapses. Take at least 30 minutes’ daily aerobic exercise such as ­swimming or walking. It’s as simple as that.’
WHAT TO DO: Place your hand flat on a table and pinch the skin on the back of the hand, grabbing as much as you can. Hold it for one minute, then let go. Watch how long it takes to regain its normal appearance.
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: Less than one second: take three years off your age. 1-2 seconds: stay the same. 3-4 seconds: add one year. 5-10 seconds: add two. 11-30 seconds: add three years.
WHAT IT MEANS: As our skin ages and shows signs of sun damage, it loses elasticity. Sun exposure destroys the collagen — a protein that supports the skin and makes it supple. It is this that leads to wrinkles and increases the risk of skin cancer.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: Limit sun exposure by avoiding getting burnt or overly tanned, says ­dermatologist Dr Andrew Wright at Bradford Teaching Hospitals Trust. Smoking also ages the skin as the tar in smoke is a photosensitiser — increasing its sensitivity to sunlight, and the risk of sun damage.
WHAT TO DO: Stand on one leg and hold on to the other by bending it at the knee back towards your buttocks. Place your hands on your hips and close your eyes. Time how long it takes you to lose your balance.
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: If you last one minute, take off four years. For 30 seconds: take off two years. Less than a few seconds: add three years.
WHAT IT MEANS: The older we get the more lower limb muscle strength we lose. We also lose our ability to control movement within joints, which makes us more likely to fall.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: Practise balancing on one foot for as long as you can each day, says London-based physiotherapist Sammy Margo. This improves the ability of your muscles to sense movement, strengthens the ­muscles in your lower limbs and gives you more stability — reducing the risk of falls.
WHAT TO DO: Place one end of a long ruler on your cheekbone, directly below the eye, so it is jutting straight out in front of you. Hold a copy of the Daily Mail as far out along the ruler as you can and slowly move it towards your eye until the words begin to blur. Measure the distance closest to the eye at which the paper can be easily read.
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: Less than 15cm: age stays the same. 16-30cm: add one year to your age. 31-60cm: add two years. 61-90cm: add three. More than 90cm: add four years. 
WHAT IT MEANS: As we get older our eyes lose their focusing power, explains Dr Susan Blakeney of the College of Optometrists. ‘This is because the lens gets harder with age and loses its flexibility. This makes the eye less able to focus.’
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: Nothing can halt the ageing ­process in eyes, but giving up smoking and eating a balanced diet can keep them healthy. Smokers are twice as likely to lose their sight compared with non-smokers as they grow older, due to a link between smoking and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of sight loss in older people. Research suggests chemicals in cigarette smoke disrupt blood flow to the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.
These chemicals may also alter antioxidants in the blood, which are thought to protect the eye from damage. Wear ultraviolet absorbing sunglasses in sun, adds Dr Blakeney. Sun exposure is linked to cataracts and AMD.
The lung test uses a balloon: As we age, the lungs become less elastic and don’t go in and out as they should
WHAT TO DO: Take a regular-sized balloon and a 30cm ruler. Take a deep breath and, in one go, breathe out all the air in your lungs into the balloon. Hold or tie the end, then use a ruler to measure the width of the balloon. If it’s 7-9cm, this equates to 0.5 litres of air, 10-11cm is 1 litre, 12-13cm is 1.5 litres, 14-16cm is 2-3 litres and 20-22cm is ­4-5 litres.
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: Less than a litre, add five years. 1-1.5 litres,add three years. 2-3 litres, add one year. 4-5 litres take three years away.
WHAT IT MEANS:As we age, the lungs become less elastic so don’t go in and out as well as they should, explains Dr Keith Prowse of the British Lung Foundation. This reduces our lung capacity — the total amount of air that we can breathe out after completely filling our lungs (the average capacity for healthy lungs is 3.6 litres).
As we age, some of the small air sacs in the lungs deteriorate.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: Weight loss is the most important factor in improving lung capacity, says Dr Prowse. Being overweight means the lungs have to work harder to inhale the same amount of oxygen. Extra fat on the chest makes it harder for muscles to contract and expand when we breathe.
Exercise your lungs daily — take three to four deep breaths, three to four times a day. If you get breathless easily, or more so than friends of your age, see your GP.
WHAT TO DO: Listen to your favourite radio show with the sound turned to a quarter of the volume you would usually set it at. Can you hear clearly enough to follow the programme?
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: If it was impossible, add five years to your age. If you could barely make out words and songs, add three. If you could just about make out what was being said, add one. If it wasn’t at all difficult to hear, take two years off.
WHAT IT MEANS: Wear and tear causes damage to the nerves that take sound from the hair cells of the inner ear to the nerves responsible for hearing and the brain. Of the 20 per cent of adults in the UK with hearing loss, most are over 60.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: Don’t use devices such as iPods for more than an hour a day, and listen to music or radio programmes at as low a volume as you can. ‘This forces the cerebral cortex of the brain, which governs hearing, to work more efficiently,’ explains Prof Moore.
Tooth test: Bad breath and bleeding gums can be signs of ageing
WHAT TO CHECK: Do your gums bleed when you brush them? Do you have bad breath?
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: If your gums bleed, add four years to your age. If you have bad breath, add one year.
WHAT IT MEANS: As we get older, plaque can build up on the gums, causing them to bleed when inflamed — a condition known as gingivitis. If left untreated this develops into periodontal disease, where the gums begin to pull away from the teeth, leaving a little pocket which traps plaque that you can’t reach with a toothbrush.
Bad breath is also a sign that plaque is building up in the mouth.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: See the hygienist twice a year, says London-based dentist Dr Charles Ferber. Brush teeth for two minutes twice a day, making sure to include the gum margins around the teeth. Use a waxed floss or an interdental brush to clean between your teeth.
WHAT TO DO: Measure the circumference of your hips at the widest part of your buttocks. Then measure your waist at its smallest part. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to produce your waist to hip ratio. For example, if your waist is 28in, and your hips 34in, your ratio is 0.8.
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: For a ratio of 0.7 or less, take a year off your age; if it’s 0.85, add three; if it’s more than one, add five years.
WHAT IT MEANS: Having a waist the same size or bigger than your hips (a ratio of more than one) is very unhealthy. People who carry fat around the waist are more likely to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems. Fat around the waist is visceral fat wrapped around the organs — it is more likely to raise the risk of heart attack than fat just under the skin.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: It’s the usual advice — stick to a balanced diet and take regular exercise to protect your heart and stop the build up of ­visceral fat.
WHAT TO DO: What is the greatest amount of alcohol you drink in any one day each week?
WORK OUT YOUR SCORE: Three drinks or fewer, take three years off your age. Four drinks, stay the same. Five drinks, add one year. More than five drinks, add three years.
WHAT IT MEANS: The liver has a remarkable capacity to regenerate itself — however, each time it filters alcohol, some liver cells die. So if you drink heavily for many years, your liver will lose its ability to regenerate new cells, causing ­serious damage. Our liver volume decreases with age, aggravating the ­problem.
TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE: Drink no more than three units a day for women and three to four for men. Reduce fat intake as a fatty liver, caused by increased fat in the liver cells, can lead to non-­alcoholic steatohepatitis — a major cause of cirrhosis, which can lead to liver cancer.
So now you know your body’s real age. If it’s less than your chronological age, then congratulations. But even if your insides are older than you, the experts say it’s never too late to start improving your health.
At the very least your results can give you the kickstart you need for a healthier 2011.
Print out your score card and see what your Body Age is
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