Is Healthy Aging All About Calories?

Sure, cutting calories is a good way to lose weight. But could it be the ticket to longevity, too? Interestingly, that’s what some new research suggests …

Not Your Average Diet
Over the last several decades, more and more scientific research has found that lifelong calorie restriction (consuming 20-40% fewer calories than usual) increases lifespan in mice and other animals. But what about people? Well, we don’t exactly know, partly because to answer that question scientists would have to calorie restrict a group of people and follow them for their entire lives. Researchers are working on this problem in a big trial called the CALERIE study, but getting answers will take a long time.

In the Meantime
In a new study out of Duke University, researchers approached the question of calories and longevity from a different, clever angle. Rather than trying to follow people for decades, they analyzed data from the CALERIE study to see if calorie restriction was affecting “biological age” in people enrolled in the trial. The idea here is that your “chronological age” in years may not reflect just how old (or young) your body is, whereas biological age captures the fact that some people seem younger than their age—fitter and healthier than you’d expect. The researchers used measurements obtained from blood samples, and calculated that biological age in people undergoing calorie restriction was increasing about six times more slowly than in people eating a regular diet.

So, Start Counting Calories?
Well, you might want to wait for more evidence—we don’t know if people in this new study will actually live longer. But we do know that eating in moderation is a good thing, and it’s a common trait of people who live exceptionally long lives. And, if you’re interested, we’ve explained here that scientists are developing other measurements of biological age, some of which you can use to easily estimate it on your own—and most of which will tell you that regular exercise reduces your biological age.

(Feature photo courtesy of

Tom LaRocca

Tom LaRocca, Ph.D., is a research associate and instructor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.