To understand how stress can affect aging, we must first look at what exactly it is that stress can do to harm your body. For that, we turn to Healthline. According to Healthline, some of the effects of stress on your body that can be easily noticed include headaches and stomachaches, as well as issues that are heavily associated with biological age acceleration such as insomnia and a weakened immune system. As a result, there is no question that stress can have a severe negative impact on biological age. Beyond these effects, there are also several effects of stress on mental health. Again, according to Healthline, three common symptoms of chronic stress include irritability, depression, and anxiety. These are important issues to tackle not only because of their potential impact on longevity but also because of the growing interest in these issues within society and popular culture.
When looking at these issues from an epigenetic perspective, a study by Indiana University found that a gene known as “ANK3” may be the interface between mood, stress, and longevity, meaning that it may play a key role in affecting longevity. It is further pointed out that the expression of these genes changes as they age, and that people who experienced significant stress often had a shift in expression in these genes associated with premature aging and reduced longevity. As a result of this, it can definitively be stated that stress (and mental health in tandem) are significant hindrances in our attempts of living longer, healthier, and happier lives.
What Can You do to Reduce Stress and Improve Biological Age?
One thing I wrote about a while back that I often find myself coming back to when researching factors on biological age is Blue Zones. For those unfamiliar with Blue Zones, these are zones throughout the world where people are demographically proven to live the longest. Not only is geography a factor in the longevity of people in these zones, but there are also a number of practices that people who follow Blue Zones guidelines adhere to in their efforts to improve and maintain longevity. One reason that I often return to them is that their practices are those that are often most linked to longevity, such as heavily plant-based diets and consistent movement. Another one of these practices that Blue Zones followers adhere to is having healthy relationships with friends and family. As such, this is one intervention that could potentially reduce stress. The Blue Zones website offers a list of stress management strategies used to maximize health and longevity. The four strategies on the list are keeping a stress journal to help identify the causes of your stress, saying ‘no’ to others when you have a busy schedule, drinking lots of water, and following their dieting guidelines. So, if you are having problems with stress and are concerned with its effects on your health and longevity, consider picking up a couple of these strategies from the people who are known to live the longest.
Another activity to tackle the stress that has been brought up by Marlynn Wei for Harvard Medical School is yoga. Wei writes that chronic stress has been linked to biological age-accelerating factors like chronic inflammation, which is associated with mental health issues, diabetes, heart disease, and a weakened immune system. Wei points out that while doing yoga poses can help reduce stress on a physical level, doing types of yoga that entail more than just poses can additionally help on a psychological level. One such type of yoga that Wei brings up is alternate nostril breathing, which can help you to find deep relaxation and even incorporate aspects of meditation into yoga. I won’t go over what it takes to perform alternate nostril breathing, but you can click the link above if you are interested.
Stress is very common; we all get it. You would have to be superhuman to not experience some form of stress every once in a while. A study by Northwestern University even found that a little bit of stress can be good for cellular health and longevity, where it is written that the signals from mildly stressed mitochondria help prevent the failure of protein-folding quality control. This can suppress the effects that damaged protein can have on the body including preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. With that said, chronic stress and mental health issues can have detrimental effects on biological age and your overall health. With relationships being so important to long-living people such as those in Blue Zones, I would encourage relationship-building to help limit stress. If you are experiencing stress or mental health issues, I would also encourage you to just talk to someone at the very least, whether it be a certified professional, friend, or family member. Issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression can often lead to people feeling lonely, so building healthy relationships can at least provide an outlet to help deal with these issues and limit their effects on your overall health.