Stress is Ageing: Take Time to Chill in 2022

While the right amount of stress can improve our health and get our brains firing, there’s no doubt that prolonged stress is not good for us. It increases the risk of heart disease, addiction, mood disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also influence our metabolism, accelerating obesity-related disorders such as diabetes. And we can find ourselves unable to control our emotions and think clearly.

On top of these concerns, scientists have now proven the commonly held view that chronic stress can accelerate aging. But don’t worry… they’ve also worked out you can minimise the effects of stress on ageing by strengthening your psychological health.

To do this, scientists at Yale University used ‘epigenetic clocks’ to measure biological age by tracking natural chemical changes in DNA, then they looked at the impact of chronic stress on aging.

Using one such clock, appropriately named ‘GrimAge’, they concluded that stress does indeed make life’s clock tick faster – but that individuals can help manage the effects by strengthening their emotion regulation and self-control.

Published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the Yale researchers enrolled 444 people, ages 19 to 50, who provided blood samples which were used to evaluate the age-related chemical changes captured by GrimAge as well as other markers of health. The participants also answered questions designed to reveal stress levels and psychological resilience.

Even after accounting for demographic and behavioural factors such as smoking, body mass index, race, and income, the researchers found that those who scored high on measures related to chronic stress exhibited accelerated aging markers and physiological changes such as increased insulin resistance.

However, stress didn’t affect everyone’s health to the same degree. Subjects who scored high on two psychological resilience measures – emotion regulation and self-control – were more resilient to the effects of stress on aging and insulin resistance, respectively.

In other words, the more psychologically resilient you are, the higher the likelihood you will live a longer and healthier life.

Make time for mental health

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  1. Zachary M. Harvanek, Nia Fogelman, Ke Xu, Rajita Sinha. Psychological and biological resilience modulates the effects of stress on epigenetic aging. Translational Psychiatry, 2021; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41398-021-01735-7