Stress and Aging: Does Stress Speed Up The Aging Process?

Stress and aging: over the last few decades there have been huge leaps in our scientific knowledge.

The latest research is showing that we can measure longevity in ourselves. Through this research we can measure how different life choices and factors affect how quickly we get older internally.

So in looking at how the body gets older, does stress speed up the aging process and if so is there anything we can do to alter this process?

Stress and Aging

A new study in the scientific journal Plos One about job stress suggests that there is a link between stress and accelerated biological aging. The research is based on measuring a part of our DNA which are called telomeres.

What are Telomeres?

According to the University of California San Francisco (UCSF):

“Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that are similar to the plastic caps at the ends of a shoelace. As the plastic ends shred, and the shoelace becomes frayed and damaged, so too the shortening of our telomeres can leave our cells vulnerable to damage.”

More about Telomeres

The Nobel Prize for Science winner, Dr Bill Andrews, has spent many years studying telomeres. His research shows that when we are born our telomeres are 10,000 bases (a micro-measurement) in length. Each year thereafter our telomeres shorten by 50 to 100 bases under normal circumstances.

When they reach the length of 5000 bases the chromosomes start to unravel and therefore the cells lose the ability to function. He goes on to say that around this point a person will die.

How Long Should We Live?

According to this research by Dr Andrews, we as humans have the ability to live to 125 years of age. But what this research is now showing is that lifestyle choices and other factors are shortening these telomeres.

The Things Which Speed Up Aging 

The following factors have been suggested to shorten the length of telomeres and therefore speed up the aging process:

  • Smoking
  • Overeating and obesity
  • High levels of stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Being pessimistic
  • Depression
  • Work-related stress
  • Financial stress

Stress and Aging Study

The scientific study in the journal Plos One carried out research to examine whether psychological stress accelerated the rate of biological aging.

In this study they investigated whether work-related exhaustion, an indicator of prolonged work stress was linked to accelerated biological aging.

They took a sample of 2911 men and women aged 30 to 64 and assessed them using the Maslak Burnout Inventory – General Survey. The measurements they took were based on the length of their leukocyte telomeres.

The Results of the Stress and Aging Study

The results suggested that work-related exhaustion is related to the acceleration of the rate of biological aging. So in answer to the question about stress and aging, this study suggests that high levels of stress are increasing the rate of aging.

The authors of this report go on to say that, “ the hypothesis awaits confirmation in a prospective study measuring changing in relative telomere length over time.” In other words they are waiting for more information and a more in depth study to be carried out.

Is There Anything You Can Do To Alter The Process of Stress and Aging

Stress and Aging - Meditation

Peter R Carol MD, the chair of the UCSF Department of Urology states that, “telomere shortening increases the risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases.”

It is therefore really important for us as individuals to take up a practise of managing our stress levels. The less stressed you are, and the better you manage your stress the less your telomeres could shorten.

So the positive thing coming out of these studies is that although stress might be shortening our telomeres this new research is showing that there are many things you can do to combat this.

Indeed this research is not only showing that you can slow the average shortening of the telomeres down but that there are also many techniques which work in lengthening the telomeres. According to the research done by the UCSF tools like, healthy eating, exercise, meditation and yoga when combined in a regular practise have the potential to lengthen the telomeres.

Dr Carol goes on to say, “we believe that increases in telomere length may help to prevent these conditions (chronic diseases) and perhaps even lengthen lifespan.”

In Conclusion

So in terms of stress and aging, stress has the potential to speed up the aging process. But we are now learning that there are potentially many things you can do on the positive side to prevent this which is wonderful news for us all.

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