The Truth Behind the RealAge Concept

A Review of the Famous RealAge Best-Selling Books and Online Test

Michael Roizen, founder behind the RealAge concept
Michael Roizen, founder behind the RealAge concept. Steve Mack/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The basic concept behind RealAge is that your true biological age is not necessarily the same as your chronological age. In other words, you may chronologically be 35 years old but your body may function like a 25-year-old or a 50-year-old depending on a number of factors. The stated mission of RealAge is "to encourage consumers to maximize their health and wellness by making their 'RealAge' younger."

RealAge was founded by Dr. Michael Roizen, who is currently the chief wellness officer at The Cleveland Clinic. Over the last several years, the RealAge concept has gained great traction among Americans due, in part, to the success of the five related New York Times best-selling books (the first of which was promoted by Oprah Winfrey) and the involvement of television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. The RealAge books and website (now a part of Sharecare) dive into those factors and examine how lifestyle choices and other things impact your "real age." So what's all the hype about?

The RealAge Test

At the heart of RealAge is an online test that asks 132 questions about family history and lifestyle to determine your RealAge. This test can be taken online or from one of the many RealAge books. It has been reported that the RealAge test has been taken by over 40 million people since 1999.

The test adjusts your current age based on how you answer each question.

In the RealAge test, for example, smoking increases your age by 8 years, but taking an aspirin every day will make you 2.2-2.9 years younger. The test is really a lot of fun and points out the benefits and dangers of various health behaviors. If you do not want e-mails from RealAge, be very careful as you click through the test to uncheck all the newsletter and other boxes.

Is RealAge Real?

Longevity science is challenging. In reality, researchers cannot do medical studies to prove that John Doe would have actually lived 8 years longer if he had quit smoking. Either he quit or he didn't. We don't have two identical John Does to compare. Ultimately, researchers must rely on statistics like averages to determine the impact of certain lifestyle behaviors which gets very complicated and is certainly not an exact science. Meaning that a RealAge score is likely more symbolic and relative than it is a scientific fact.

Dr. Michael Roizen, the founder behind the RealAge concept, claims that he has "pored over more than 33,000 medical studies" in his quest to develop RealAge. I find that claim hard to believe. If he spent one hour per medical study for 8 hours a day, it would take him over 11 years to complete his research. He does say that the calculations used in the RealAge test are based on more than 1,200 of those studies along with a "proprietary database." 

Can We Know Our "RealAge?"

In short, we can't really know the impact of all the lifestyle factors in the level of detail presented in RealAge.

Each lifestyle factor interacts with other factors in a complex, sometimes unknown, way. RealAge does try to address this, adjusting some of the factors for age (for example, aspirin reduces age by 2.2 years at 55 and 2.9 years at 70). But the bottom line is that we cannot know our "RealAge" with the precision suggested by the test. That said, the RealAge test will give the best guess available to you.

Does RealAge Matter?

In spite of the complexities and limitations of longevity science the RealAge system is very impressive. Reading the book and receiving the e-mails can give lots of suggestions that you can use to become healthier and live longer. By linking behaviors to increasing or decreasing your age, the unique approach allows you to compare different lifestyle factors and prioritize your efforts. If you adopt just 3 or 4 of the suggestions in this book, you will undoubtedly be healthier and better off, which is the ultimate goal.

The Drawbacks of the RealAge Program

Once you approach the RealAge program as a way to better understand how different factors and behaviors can affect your longevity, there are no real downfalls in the program itself. That said, the program is for-profit, meaning that beyond book sales, the company behind RealAge has done its best to monetize the online program - mainly through advertising. There is a lot of advertising on the RealAge website. Newsletters are often sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. The books and online content can, at times, read like an infomercial. It is unfortunate that a reader has to weed through all of that to get to the real valuable information in the RealAge system. What is of most concern is the among of highly targeted advertising dedicated to pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements.

A Warning About Advertised Medicines and Supplements

The RealAge program will talk about supplements and recommend various vitamins, minerals, and herbs. You will also likely run into highly targeted advertising from pharmaceutical companies selling the latest drug. Please, before taking anything, check with your doctor and a nutritionist. The data and advertising may say one thing, but your individual situation is different and unique. Taking supplement advice solely from a book or website is not advised. Read the book to learn about the supplements and frame your questions, but do talk to a healthcare professional before taking all sorts of pills.

The Bottom Line

If you are interested in living long and increasing your health, the RealAge books and online content provide lots of great information. Read them and take away the things that will work from you. Just watch out for advertising, especially on the website and in the newsletters.

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