Stress Origins Aging

What are the effects of stress on aging individuals? Scientists are beginning to discover that chronic stress can accelerate the aging process. Learn the latest findings on stress in aging research. Although this link exists, you’ll find that you may be able to avoid the connection between stress and aging.

Telomeres and Aging

Inside our cells, structures called telomeres cap the ends of our chromosomes, which carry our genetic information. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres get shorter until the cell can no longer divide. Once a cell can’t divide, it dies. This shortening of telomeres is part of the natural aging process.

Research on Stress and Aging

Recent research indicates that stress can accelerate the aging process. Researchers with the University of California at San Francisco (2004) found that psychological stress was linked to shortened telomeres and faster aging.

Researchers chose 39 women between the ages of 20 and 50 who were under severe stress due to caring for chronically ill children. The control group included 19 additional women with healthy children.

The longer a woman had been caring for a sick child, the shorter her telomeres and the lower her levels of telomerase (a substance that protects telomeres from damage). These women also had higher levels of oxidative stress, a process that causes free radical damage to all areas of the body, including telomeres.

Reduce Stress in the Aging Process

The effects of stress on aging individuals aren’t necessarily a natural part of the aging process. A study by the same team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (2010) reveals that exercise may protect the body’s telomeres.

Researchers chose 62 post-menopausal women with stressful lives, many of whom experienced extreme stress from caring for spouses or parents suffering from dementia. Participants recorded amounts of daily aerobic exercise and were classified in an “active” or “inactive” high stress group.

The inactive group experienced shorter telomeres, an effect that wasn’t noted in the active group. If you have high stress levels, you may be able to protect your telomeres with as little as 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, or 150 minutes of moderate activity and weight bearing exercise.

Stress and Alzheimer’s Disease

Ongoing stress has been linked to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, a study published in “Journal of Neuroscience” (2010) found that exposing mice to chronic stress created biological and chemical changes in them that signal Alzheimer’s in human beings.

Another study, published in “Biological Psychiatry” (2007), found that stressed individuals with the APOE gene (associated with Alzheimer’s disease) experienced greater memory loss than stressed individuals who didn’t carry this specific gene.

Defy the Link Between Stress and Aging

To avoid the effects of stress on aging, consider these helpful tips:

  • Creative visualization
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercising regularly
  • Listening to pleasant music and closing your eyes
  • Meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Taking a bath with candlelight and relaxing music.

Resources

Health Jockey. (2010). Impact of stress on cell aging may be reduced by brief exercise. Retrieved September 22, 2010, from http://www.healthjockey.com/2010/05/31/impact-of-stress-on-cell-aging-may-be-reduced-by-brief-exercise/

News Medical. (2007). Stress and Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved September 22, 2010 from http://www.news-medical.net/news/2007/06/17/26407.aspx

ScienceDaily, LLC. (2010). High stress and genetic risk factor lead to increased memory decline. Retrieved September 22, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070827095121.htm

Stein, R. (2004). Study is first to confirm that stress speeds aging. Retrieved September 22, 2010, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A20394-2004Nov29_2.html