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This Simple Eye Test Can Reveal How Long You'll Live

FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Human longevity—who lives longer, who doesn't, and how that ratio might be tweaked—is still a mystery that has captured the imagination and intense study of researchers. In recent years, studies have provided tantalizing clues about who lives longer, why, and how that might be predicted. New research suggests there's one potential indicator that can predict how long you'll live: A simple eye test. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

Can Retinas Predict Your Future?

The retina—a membrane in the back of the eye that contains light-sensitive cells and a tiny network of blood vessels—is crucial to sight. It may also be a bellwether of how long you're going to live. 

Scientists already knew that cells in the retina deteriorate as we get older. (Glaucoma, an eye disease that becomes more common with age, damages retinal cells and causes them to die.) But according to a new study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, people whose retinas were "older" than their actual age were closer to the end of life themselves—they were more likely to die within the next decade.

"The retina offers a unique, accessible 'window' to evaluate underlying pathological processes of systemic vascular and neurological diseases that are associated with increased risks of mortality," said study co-author Dr. Mingguang He from the Center for Eye Research Australia.

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What the Study Found

The study involved more than 47,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, who were tracked by the researchers for an average of 11 years. Each person had their retinas scanned. The scientists then compared each retina's "biological age" with that person's chronological age. They discovered many participants had a "retinal age gap."

Large gaps in retinal age were associated with a 49 to 67 percent higher risk of death from any cause other than cardiovascular disease or cancer. That was after adjusting for potential contributing factors such as high blood pressure, BMI, lifestyle habits, and ethnicity. 

And for every one-year increase in the age gap, the researchers saw a 2% increase in the risk of death from any cause and a 3% increase in the risk of death from a specific cause other than cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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Why Is The Retina Relevant?

The retina contains a network of small blood vessels that are crucial to sight. (In a condition called retinopathy, older blood vessels are damaged and new ones form, potentially leading to blindness.) Several studies, including this new one, suggest the vessels cause also gauge the health of the brain and circulatory system overall. 

"Our novel findings have determined that the retinal age gap is an independent predictor of increased mortality risk, especially of non-cardiovascular disease/ non-cancer mortality. These findings suggest that retinal age may be a clinically significant biomarker of aging," the researchers wrote. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more
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