Unlocking the Secret to Ageing: How Stress Plays a Role and Why It's Not All Bad News
A Curious Intersection: When Stress Meets Ageing
Ever wondered if stress could make you age faster? You are not alone. Recent American research has begun to unravel this intriguing mystery. With a focus on the biological rather than chronological ageing, the researchers aimed to uncover how stress could accelerate the body's ageing process. But here's the twist: the effect isn't necessarily permanent. The time you've spent on this planet isn't the sole determiner of your biological age; our actions and experiences, including stress, play significant roles as well...
Unravelling the Threads: An In-depth Look into Stress and Biological Age
Researchers at Duke University Medical School and Harvard University Medical School embarked on a fascinating journey to discern the influence of stress on our biological age. They utilised the epigenetic clock, a tool that accurately determines an individual's biological age, to monitor the changes in both humans and mice. The research was a cornerstone in revealing that stress could notably impact biological age. The icing on the cake? The stress-induced trend can be reversed once the peak has passed.
Breaking Ageing Stereotypes: A Ground-breaking Discovery
The old-age belief of biological age persistently increasing with time has been challenged by the researchers. James White from Duke, a co-senior study author, stated, "This finding of fluid, fluctuating, malleable age challenges the longstanding conception of a unidirectional upward trajectory of biological age over the life course." They found that biological age could increase during short periods of stress, only to trend back towards the baseline following recovery from stress.
Navigating Life's Storms: How Stressful Events Affect our Biological Clock
Diverse factors contribute to the body's ageing process. The study noted "transient changes in biological age" that took place during major surgery, pregnancy, or severe forms of Covid-19. For instance, an increase in biological age was seen in pregnant women. Still, this effect normalised post-childbirth, reflecting the reversible nature of these changes.
The Elixir of Life: Stress Management and Longevity
As the research implies, mortality can be decreased by reducing biological age. Therefore, our ability to recover from stress may become a significant determinant of successful ageing and longevity. It turns out, learning to manage stress could become your very own fountain of youth, influencing your body's ageing.
Despite the insights gained, the researchers believe that more work is needed to fully comprehend the lifetime impact of short-term fluctuations in biological age in response to various factors, including stress.
Basking in Calmness: The Unseen Power of Relaxation
According to the study, relaxation after a stressful event could reduce the speed of ageing within days. The participants, even those of advanced chronological age, showed an ability to reverse a stress-induced increase in their biological age. Taking it easy, as they say, could potentially reverse damaging changes.
While stress was found to increase mortality by accelerating biological age, the study also suggested that biological age could serve as an indicator of stress levels and an individual's ability to recover.
Recovery, whether passive or active, is seen as instrumental in the reversal of stress-induced biological ageing. The study posits that our bodies naturally induce this reversal and brings forth questions on whether we might be able to reverse our age below the recovery baseline.
The Next Frontier: Steering the Course of Future Ageing
There's a long road ahead to fully understanding the impact of stress on our biological age. For instance, how much stress is needed to accelerate biological ageing? Can we reduce accelerated ageing over a longer time period? What role does gender play in this? These are some of the intriguing questions the researchers hope to tackle in the future. The exploratory journey of ageing continues, but for now, it's clear that our biological clock ticks not just with time, but also with the rhythm of our lives.
Things You Can Do Today: Your Guide to Ageing Well
The research has clearly shown the transient and reversible nature of stress-induced biological ageing. Understanding this concept, you can take actionable steps to mitigate stress and, in turn, potentially reverse its effects on your biological age. Here are some practical tips:
Embrace Mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. These activities can promote relaxation and help you regain balance after stressful events .
Create a Support System: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family members. Connecting with others can alleviate feelings of stress and help you recover more quickly .
Exercise Regularly: Physical activity is a proven way to manage stress. Even a brisk walk can do wonders for your mood and assist in reversing stress-related ageing.
Set Realistic Goals: Break down your tasks into manageable goals, and prioritise them. Achieving smaller goals can bring a sense of accomplishment and reduce stress levels. And beware of those things that are out of your control, focusing instead on what's in your control.
Pursue a Hobby: Engage in activities you enjoy, such as reading, painting, or gardening. Doing something you love can act as a natural stress reliever.
Sleep Well: Adequate rest is vital for stress recovery. Ensuring you have a consistent sleep routine can have a positive impact on your biological age.
Eat a Balanced Diet: Your nutritional choices play a role in how your body handles stress, especially your good gut bacteria. Eating a well-balanced diet can support your overall wellbeing.
Create a Relaxation Routine: Establish daily or weekly routines that include activities specifically aimed at relaxation, such as a warm bath, listening to calming music, or spending time in nature.
Turn Off Your Phone:Going off-line can have a big impact on your wellbeing. On study showed that reducing social media use to just 30 minutes a day reported significant reductions in feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Limiting phone usage, particularly before bedtime, can also improve sleep quality, which in turn positively impacts mood and mental health.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What does the new study indicate about the connection between stress and ageing?
The study suggests that stress does have a significant impact on our biological age, causing it to accelerate. However, this effect isn't necessarily permanent and can be reversed once the peak of the stress has passed.
2. What are the implications of the findings on our understanding of biological age?
Traditionally, biological age was understood to increase unidirectionally over the life course. However, the study shows that biological age is fluid and malleable, and can increase or decrease in response to stress and recovery, challenging the long-standing conception.
3. Are the changes in biological age due to stress permanent?
No, the research suggests that the increase in biological age in response to stress is transient. Once the stressful period passes and recovery ensues, biological age trends back towards the baseline.
4. Can other factors, aside from stress, impact the body's ageing process?
Yes, the research indicates that other factors can induce "transient changes in biological age". These include major surgery, pregnancy, and severe forms of COVID-19.
5. How could these findings be used practically?
Managing stress could help control the ageing of the body. Moreover, the study suggests that biological age could be a useful measure of an individual's stress levels and their ability to recover.
6. Does recovering from stress make you look visibly younger?
Dr James White speculates that the physiological responses related to stress might translate to visible signs. However, it's not clear whether short-term stress could lead to noticeable changes. Long-term stress, though, might have a more pronounced effect.
7. How can we help ourselves recover from stress?
The study suggests that a combination of physical and mental rest is important for recovery. Ensuring a balance between the two might help reverse the stress-induced biological ageing.
This article is for general information only and is not intended to treat or diagnose medical conditions. If in doubt please check with your GP first.
Published in Cell Metabolism 2023.
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