"Health" and "age" are two distinct concepts, and no matter how old you are chronologically, a simple blood test can help determine what King's College London researchers call your "biological age"—which may be able to predict your longevity, the BBC reports. A study published in the Genome Biology journal compared 54,000 gene markers in the RNA of healthy 65-year-olds and cut those down to 150 "gene signatures" that indicated "healthy" aging. "[This] healthy aging signature [is] common to all our tissues, and it appears to be prognostic for a number of things, including longevity and cognitive decline," James Timmons, the study's lead author, tells the BBC. Timmons' team applied the gene-signature test to a group of 70-year-old Swedish men they followed over two decades, and was able to determine who was aging "well" and who wasn't. "You could actually pick out people who had almost no chance of being dead, and you have people who had an almost 45% chance of being dead," Timmons says.
This biological age could prove more useful than one's chronological age in helping the medical and insurance communities plan ahead, as well as determine who's a good candidate for organ donation (i.e., a chronologically "old" person could have a biologically "young" organ). "We use birth year, or chronological age, to judge everything from insurance premiums to whether you get a medical procedure or not," Timmons says in a press release. "Most people accept that all 60-year-olds are not the same, but there has been no reliable test for underlying 'biological age.'" The scientists believe combining this biological age with more conventional disease indicators will improve upon the current methodology of predicting and treating diseases such as Alzheimer's. What the study didn't show: a link between one's biological age and lifestyle, Wired UK notes. And, sadly, researchers haven't figured out how to modify biological ages to our advantage, the magazine adds. (This simple questionnaire determines your risk of dying in the next five years.)