Aging is caused primarily by our biology, not by our choices. You can certainly cause yourself to age more rapidly by neglecting your health, but the only reason that we see any great level of concern regarding social and behavioral factors in aging is that rejuvenation therapies that have far larger beneficial results than exercise and diet are not yet in widespread use. So people can today look at effect sizes of a year gained here and a year lost there via lifestyle choices and think that this merits further investigation and funding, as it is on a par with what has been achieved via the poor past approaches to treating age-related disease.
In reality we should care very little about such small effects, and focus instead on medical research programs that can in principle add decades to healthy life spans by repairing the cell and tissue damage that causes aging. Bluntly, people who declare that breakthroughs in aging research must incorporate the study of social and behavioral factors are talking nonsense. It is the usual process of the social sciences fishing for funding in the wake of actually important work, combined with low expectations as to how much aging can be slowed or reversed in the decades ahead.
A trio of recent studies highlight the need to incorporate behavioral and social science alongside the study of biological mechanisms in order to slow aging. Exciting biological discoveries about rate of aging in non-human species are sometimes not applicable or lost when we apply them to humans. Including behavioral and social research can support translation of geroscience findings from animal models to benefit human. "The move from slowing fundamental processes of aging in laboratory animals to slowing aging in humans will not be as simple as prescribing a pill and watching it work. Compared to aging in laboratory animals, human aging has many behavioral/social in addition to cellular origins and influences. These influences include potential intervention targets that are uniquely human, and therefore are not easily investigated in animal research."
Several of these human factors have big impacts on health and mortality: stress and early life adversity, psychiatric history, personality traits, intelligence, loneliness and social connection, and purpose in life are connected to a variety of late-life health outcomes. These important factors need to be taken into account to get a meaningful prediction of human biological aging. "Geroscience can be augmented through collaboration with behavioral and social science to accomplish translation from animal models to humans, and improve the design of clinical trials of anti-aging therapies. It's vital that geroscience advances be delivered to everyone, not just the well-to-do, because individuals who experience low education, low incomes, adverse early-life experiences, and prejudice are the people who age fastest and die youngest."
"Social hallmarks of aging" can be strongly predictive of age-related health outcomes - in many cases, even more so than biological factors. While the aging field commonly discusses the biological hallmarks of aging, we don't tend to include the social and behavioral factors that lead to premature aging. Researchers have called the main five factors "the Social Hallmarks of aging" and poses that these should not be ignored in any sample of humans and the concepts should be incorporated where possible into non-human studies.
Researchers examined data that was collected in 2016 from the Health and Retirement Study, a large, nationally representative study of Americans over the age of 56 that incorporates both surveys regarding social factors and biological measurements, including a blood sample for genetic analysis. For the study, she focused the five social hallmarks for poor health outcomes: 1) low lifetime socioeconomic status, including lower levels of education, 2) adversity in childhood and adulthood, including trauma and other hardships, 3) being a member of a minority group, 4) adverse health behaviors, including smoking, obesity, and problem drinking, 5) adverse psychological states, such as depression, negative psychological outlook and chronic stress. The presence of these five factors were strongly associated with older adults having difficulty with activities of daily living, experiencing problems with cognition, and multimorbidity (having five or more diseases).