Aging is often associated with a decline in health and other physical changes, but your chronological age doesn’t actually tell you much about what’s happening inside your body.
This is where your metabolic age comes in. Metabolic age is a measure that tells you how healthy you are compared to others within your age group. Having a metabolic age that’s younger than your chronological age indicates good health while having a metabolic age that’s older signifies poor health.
But what affects your metabolic age, and what can you do to lower it? Here, we’ll explain how to look at this measurement in the context of your overall health.
What is metabolic age?
Metabolic age is a measure that uses your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and compares it to the average BMR of people with your same chronological age. BMR is the amount of energy or calories your body requires at rest to maintain normal bodily functions, such as breathing, blood circulation, regulating body temperature, and cell growth.
If your metabolic age is higher than your chronological age, this can indicate poor metabolic health and an increased risk of glucose dysregulation and insulin resistance . But if your metabolic age is lower than your chronological age, it implies that your metabolic processes are more efficient than average and that you are metabolically healthy.
It’s important to note that metabolic age is only one measurement and doesn’t give you a complete picture of your health.
Metabolic age leaves out important health indicators like your glucose levels and glucose variability, and it doesn’t tell you how long you are likely to live in good health (a measurement that’s known as metabolic healthspan).
Factors that affect your metabolic age
You can’t stop your chronological age from progressing, but you can make daily changes to improve your metabolic age and live healthier for longer. While you’ll hear many people talk about metabolic age in relation to BMR, that’s an oversimplification — BMR is just one metric and lacks nuance. Metabolic age is influenced by other factors, including body composition, muscle mass, exercise, diet, genetics, hormones, and more — all of which impact your BMR .
Research shows that every 10 years, your BMR decreases 1-2% due to loss of skeletal muscle, which occurs naturally with aging . This also decreases your energy requirement and increases the risk of obesity.
Another study found that individuals with a lower metabolic age have significantly lower body weight, body mass index, body fat mass, and waist circumference on average . Systolic blood pressure is lower in those with a lower metabolic age as well.
The same study found that participants with a higher metabolic age craved high-fat foods and consumed large amounts of pork and cold cuts, whereas those with a younger metabolic age consumed significantly more grains, healthy fats (i.e., polyunsaturated fatty acids), and vegetables . This finding suggests that older metabolic age is associated with less healthy diet patterns, which have been found to increase the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.
If you’re curious about what you can do now to lower your metabolic age, start with Veri’s Four Pillars of metabolic health (nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress), as these directly impact metabolic health outcomes.
What we eat, daily movement and exercise, the quality and quantity of sleep, and how we deal with stress all play a role in short- and long-term metabolic health conditions.
Committing to daily practices pertaining to these four areas will result over time in large health changes and growth.
Why does metabolic age matter?
Metabolic health is not black and white, but rather a spectrum — there’s a lot that can happen between being metabolically healthy and having type 2 diabetes.
Even though people are living longer today, they are in worse health. One in three Americans experiences metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes .
However, even if you don’t have metabolic syndrome, you aren’t necessarily metabolically healthy. In fact, 9 out of 10 Americans are metabolically unhealthy or fall outside of the healthy range for 1 of the 5 metabolic health criteria (i.e., waist circumference, fasting blood glucose, systolic blood pressure, triglycerides, and HDL cholesterol) .
Your metabolic age helps you understand where you might be on this spectrum and is an important indicator of your metabolic health. In other words, even if you consider yourself healthy for your chronological age, your metabolic age may tell a different story. Knowing your metabolic age can help you start taking more proactive measures for your long-term health and quality of life.
Why doesn’t metabolic age provide a complete picture of health?
While your metabolic age lets you know how healthy you are compared to other people your age, it doesn’t give you the information you need to make specific lifestyle changes. Metabolic age fails to factor in crucial pieces of the metabolic health puzzle such as glucose levels, glucose variability, and your body’s unique responses to diet and lifestyle factors.
But why is glucose so important? Your body turns glucose (or sugar) from the food you eat into energy, with the help of the hormone insulin. While glucose levels naturally rise and fall throughout the day, repeated spikes (or high glucose variability) from eating ultra-processed foods (i.e., foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates) can make your cells become increasingly less sensitive to insulin, leading to insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is associated with weight gain and poor metabolic health consequences like pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular problems. Even though insulin resistance affects a staggering 40% of non-diabetic Americans, many don’t know they have it because there aren’t always obvious symptoms or visible warning signs. In other words, you may have insulin resistance but appear to be metabolically healthy, and there would be no way of knowing without the proper tools or tests.
So although metabolic age gives you a relative value to suggest poorer or better metabolic health, it leaves out other important measures and inputs like exercise, sleep, stress, and diet — all of which have a significant impact on your metabolic health.
Put another way, metabolic age is like a smoke detector that doesn’t tell you which room of your house has a fire. It’s helpful knowing that something is wrong, but to deal with the problem, you need to know where to look.
Metabolic healthspan as an alternative to metabolic age
While making lifestyle shifts can help you reduce your metabolic age, the only way to deeply understand your metabolic health and build better habits based on your own biological data is by using a CGM with an app like Veri, which offers a unique Metabolic Healthspan tool.
Co-developed with researchers, endocrinologists, and cardiologists, Metabolic Healthspan fills in the gaps that limit the level of insight that metabolic age alone can provide. It integrates five evidence-based metrics — average glucose, morning fasting glucose, glucose variability, glucose oscillation, and body mass index (BMI) — to give personalized insights into your current metabolic health status and how you can improve. In other words, it gives you unique insights based on the ways your body responds to your diet and lifestyle habits, and helps you understand what and how to improve your metabolic health over time.
Ultimately, the goal of Metabolic Healthspan is to extend your healthspan by empowering you to be mentally and physically capable of doing the things you love for longer. At Veri, we understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all way to achieve this goal and that everyone deserves to have the knowledge they need to lower their metabolic age and improve their quality of health and years.
The more individual data you can gather, the better you’ll be at making informed health decisions. Metabolic age is a relative value that implies poorer or better metabolic health. However, it’s important to look at the whole picture to take control of your overall health.
- Metabolic age is a value that uses your BMR and compares it to the average BMR of people within your chronological age group. Simply put, a younger metabolic age shows promising metabolic health outcomes.
- Metabolic health is a spectrum and calculating your metabolic age can help inform where you fall on the spectrum.
- Metabolic age gives a glimpse into your overall health. Other measures such as glucose values and glucose variability are crucial to making impactful changes to improve your metabolic health.
- Using a CGM and Veri’s Metabolic Healthspan tool offers a more complete picture for you to learn how and what diet and lifestyle factors play a role in your metabolic health.