How well we age can be influenced by genetics, lifestyle and environment, but a new Danish study finds that our financial situation is also important.
Research from the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health in Denmark shows that four or more years with an income below the relative poverty threshold during adult life can make a significant difference as to when the body begins to show signs of aging.
For the study, the researchers evaluated 5,500 middle-aged participants, in which they used several aging markers: physical capability, cognitive function and inflammatory levels. The results were then compared with the participants’ income throughout the 22 years leading up to the test. An annual income of 60% below the median income is considered relative poverty.
The findings reveal a significant correlation between financial challenges and early aging. And this is important in order to be able to launch preventative measures, said Rikke Lund, M.D., Ph.D., co-author and professor at the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health.
“Early ageing also means more treatment at an earlier age, and it is a burden both to the individual and the society,” she said. “With our results, we show that poor finances are a strong indicator of early ageing — this knowledge can be used to prevent the problems.”
“Many people do not necessarily experience any noticeably poorer physical capability until they are growing older and are therefore not aware that their bodies have begun to age prematurely. This means that there will be no focus on preventative measures until it is too late.”
The participants underwent both physical and cognitive tests, each of which is an expression of general strength and function. Among other things, the researchers measured the participants’ grip strength, how many times they could get up from and sit on a chair in 30 seconds, and how high they could jump. The cognitive tests were tasks of memorizing sequences.
“There is a significant difference between the test results. People who have been below the relative poverty threshold for four or more years in their adult life perform significantly worse than those who have never been below the threshold,” Lund said.
Participants in the financially challenged group showed reduced grip strength and also stood up and sat down two fewer times in 30 seconds, compared to the more financially stable group.
In addition, the financially challenged participants also had higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood. A high inflammatory level is a sign that the body is in a state of alert and can likewise be used as a marker for illness and ageing.
“The results draw a picture that groups which experience serious financial challenges several times in their adult lives age earlier than others. From a broader perspective, the results may inspire a reconsideration of the politically adopted reduced rates of public benefits,” Lund said.