We are what we breathe: environmental factors of biological aging


The world population is ageing. For the first time, there are more people over 65 than under five, according to the World Health Organization. By 2050, the global population of people aged 60 and over will double. The number of people aged 80 or over is expected to triple between 2020 and 2050. Two potential trends explain the aging of the population: the decline in fertility and the increase in life expectancy. In a sense, population aging is a great achievement in the development of human society, but it is also linked to unforeseen and unprecedented medical and public health challenges. In particular, premature decline in physical function poses a threat to older people who wish to age in good health.

Chronological age has always been how we define age. However, this does not give a good indication of how biologically aging an individual is – which is why you often see people who look younger than they really are. Frailty is a good indicator of biological aging. It is a common geriatric syndrome characterized by multisystem deficiencies, as well as a reduced ability to withstand external stressors. Imagine a young or middle-aged person who has experienced something bad, they will most likely recover quickly, whereas if the same thing happens to an older person, they are likely to never recover, or even if he is hospitalized or dies, and it could be caused by frailty. Frailty is very common in the elderly population. A growing body of evidence points to a link between frailty and environmental health, which is crucial to understanding biological aging.

Environmental factors have been considered a global threat to accelerated biological aging. However, the effects of environmental pollutants on frailty have long been understudied, raising concerns that one of the most vulnerable population groups may not be sufficiently protected against environmental exposures that young people are more likely to tolerate. Although previous studies have revealed mechanisms of damage caused by pollutants in humans from the molecular to the individual level, clarifying the relationship between environmental particulate (PM) exposure and frailty at the population level is unclear. is not an easy task as there are two prerequisites to achieve this. objective: first, a sample of the study population that is as widely distributed as possible, and second, accurate PM exposure data that can be related to the study sample population.

Research findings on environmental impact on aging

In our research, we used a single sample of six middle-income countries (China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russian Federation and South Africa) across four continents to make our study more representative and we used remote sensing data by NASA satellite for assessment of exposure to environmental pollutants. Based on this, we tried to find the evidence linking long-term exposure to ambient ambient particles2.5—small airborne particles 2.5 micrometers (about 1 ten thousandths of an inch) or less in diameter, which can penetrate deep into the lungs—with fragility in the elderly. Our findings may reveal two troubling facts:

  1. Among the six middle-income countries, particulate air pollution is much worse in China and India. Given that China and India represent 37% of the world’s population and both populations are aging rapidly, the elderly in these countries face age-related functional decline that requires special attention.
  2. Particulate air pollution is associated with an increased risk of frailty, but this association only occurs in rural areas. We do not yet know exactly the cause of this inconsistency – especially with the wide media coverage of urban pollution in Beijing and New Delhi, for example – but could be linked to the type of job. Public health and political measures would be crucial to prevent air pollution. Differences in how policy is implemented and monitored in urban and rural areas may contribute to the differences. On the other hand, access to and supply of health care often differs between urban and rural areas in middle-income countries and may play a role in compensating for health losses caused by environmental pollution. .

How can we help people live longer in good health?

Almost all of the environmental factors that have a deleterious effect on aging are modifiable, which is very relevant for delaying and reducing frailty through primary prevention measures. If we want to see more people age successfully, if we want to live longer in good health, efforts at the individual level can make a difference, but in the long run all that really matters is global coordination to change our current energy mix in reducing pollutant emissions, innovation to promote the widespread use of accessible clean energy, and strong policies to regulate.

May is Air Quality Awareness Month in the United States. Although the current global pandemic and major geopolitical events have seriously challenged our air pollution control ambitions, this is still an opportunity to encourage people to take positive action to improve air quality.

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