THE BLOG

Two Tests to Predict How Long You Might Live

07/15/2015 09:16pm ET | Updated July 15, 2016
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Over the past couple of years, I have blogged about the "sit-to-rise test," a simple way to help predict how long you might live. Several people have let me know they don't like that test for one reason or another, and wanted to know if there are any other tests that might be useful as predictors of longevity. The answer is yes -- there are a few others ways to help give you the information you want.

The first is assessing your sense of smell. Out of all of our senses, smell probably gets the least attention. Do we even think about it on a daily basis? Would you notice if it was decreased? It turns out that how well we smell might predict how long we will live.

The ability to smell requires a lot of brain power. It involves the peripheral nervous system as well as the central nervous system. When we start to lose that ability, it often indicates a significant breakdown of neurons in our brain which then leads to numerous health problems.

Just last year, researchers tested over 3,000 men and women ranging in age from 57 to 85 years, on their ability to identify five odors -- peppermint, orange, rose, leather, and fish. (Just thinking about those now is making my nose itch!) Participants were studied over 5 years. At the conclusion of the study, scientists noted that people who lost their sense of smell were more than 4 times more likely to die during the study that those who maintained their sense of smell. Even a decrease in smell seemed to make one 1.5 times more likely to die over 5 years.

Why would this be the case? The researchers had a couple of hypotheses including the idea that since the nerve for smelling is exposed to the environment, it may reflect an accumulation of all the toxic exposures you receive through life. Your nose basically acts as ticker of all the bad things you have been exposed to, and that impacts smell.

So what should you do with this information? If you have noticed a decrease in your ability to smell, mention it to your doctor. That might be the time to start doing more testing regarding your underlying risk for diseases such as Alzheimer's, stroke, heart attacks, and even cancer.

The other "test" to use to help predict mortality is not something I as a doctor can do, but only you can do. And that is to answer the question, "How old do you feel?"

A recent study demonstrated that people who feel younger than their actual age might have reduced mortality. In this study of over 6,500 adults (at least 52 years of age), participants were asked that question. Over 8 years of follow-up, people who felt at least 3 years younger than their actual age were less likely to die than those who felt their actual age or older.

There are lots of reasons why this might make sense. If you feel older than your age, you probably already have some underlying health conditions. Or you might be depressed which we know leads to increased mortality. If you don't feel "right," you need to listen to your body, and realize it is telling you that you need to get it checked.

And the lesson here would be a recognition that if you engage in some interventions to feel younger (eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, get routine medical check-ups and proper screening, take medications as prescribed), you likely can play a significant role in helping determine how long you will live.

Any test is just a predictor. But they can provide useful information to help you and your doctor manage your overall health.