New Tests Promise to Reveal Your Real Age — but Do You Really Want to Know?

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Startup Tally Health promises its tests really tell you your real age and how old you are biologically rather than just going by the calendar — and they’re not the only ones. Founded by Harvard University biologist David Sinclair, Tally Health promises to “bring decades of longevity science to the many, not the few.”

Swab your cheek with their test kit, mail in the sample, and Tally Health promises to reveal your biological age, the “story of how slowly or rapidly your internal body is aging,” according to the company’s website. The company then looks at “how a person’s DNA methylation patterns compare to samples the company took from 8,000 people ranging from 18 to 100 years old,” says Wired. The connection between DNA methylation and aging was first discovered in the 1970s, but just how accurate an indicator it is for each individual is still subject to debate.

Once your sample has been analyzed, you’ll receive a “Personalized Action Plan” and daily “longevity” supplements. Further swabs, taken quarterly, are supposed to show you whether the plan is working to improve “your journey to healthier aging.”

According to that same Wired story, Tally is just one of about a dozen companies making similar claims — and gaining access to the “science of aging” so you can learn your real age ain’t cheap. Tally’s subscriptions start at $129 per month for an annual plan and $199 a month for their quarterly subscription.

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Personally, I’m wary of subscriptions like the ones Tally sells. The Personalized Action Plan sounds like advice you already know, like getting more sleep, eating better, and having a fitness regimen. And supplements? I already take them — all of them, it seems like, including the popular anti-aging ones like resveratrol and quercetin. $129 a month seems steep for stuff I’m already doing or at least working on.

But let’s suppose you could get one of these tests for free.

Assuming Tally and its competitors can correctly estimate my real age via methylation testing, the first question I’d have to ask myself is: Do I really want to know?

The question came as a surprise, even to me. I’d never bothered with genealogical home tests like 23andMe or Ancestry, for the simple reason that genealogy doesn’t interest me. I’m much more interested in where I’m going and what this little family of mine will do in the future than in where I came from.

But now comes the opportunity to look much further into the future than the next big anniversary or child’s birthday. The calendar says I’m 53, but what if I’m really 43 inside, or 63?

What would I do differently with that knowledge? What might you do differently?

Real Age

The more I think about it — and I let this column “rest” for a few hours between asking the question and trying to answer it — the more I think the answer is: Nothing, really.

I gave up my worst vice, smoking, almost 20 years ago. I’m devoting as much time and effort to fitness (25-40 minutes a day, 6-7 days a week) as I’m likely to. I keep my diet as balanced as I probably ever will, thanks to a big cooking and meal-planning assist from my more health-minded bride. And I drink what I enjoy and only too much when I mean to.

That’s not so bad. What my real age is doesn’t seem to me to be the point. I feel good. Would I feel any better knowing that I was ahead or behind the curve? Would I do anything different, knowing I either had some catching up to do or that I could afford to slack off a bit? Nope. It took a long time to get into a happy, comfortable, and (mostly…) healthy routine, and I’d like to think I’d stick to it no matter what my real age might be.

I’ve come to believe that we should take good care of ourselves but not be so obsessive about it that it hinders our happiness or drives the people around us crazy.

Maybe age isn’t just a number after all but, in the end, no aging test can really tell us how long we have on this planet. And the decision over how to spend those years, no matter what some test says or some website advice says, rests with each of us.

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