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People show remarkably different rates of aging. Although in many cases the rate is influenced by genetic and environmental factors, research is now pointing to stress as the major cause of aging. Reducing stress can help in staying younger for longer.

The process of getting old is inevitable; it happens to us all whether we like it or not. Wrinkles, grey hair, saggy skin, a receding hairline, weight gain, and lack of physical energy are among the most common complaints when it comes to getting old.

Can this process of aging be reversed? It is possible to delay, or even stop, the process of aging taking a hold of our bodies?

The Elderly Population Is Very Heterogeneous

As we go through life and become older, we become physically less and less like our peers. Young children and babies are expected to achieve certain milestones and can therefore be physically compared more easily. However, a group of 70 year old people will show far more physical differences than similarities. This is because fundamentally, the process of aging is unique to each and every one of us. It is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. As babies, life has not had enough time to influence our ways physically so differences between peers are minimal, but by the time we reach the age of 70, several decades of life have allowed habits and lifestyle choices to set in that will have an impact on our health, and ultimately the aging process, both positively and negatively.

Major Causes Of Rapid Aging

According to the World Health Organization, the top three reasons for rapid onset of aging are poor diet, lack of physical activity and exposure to health risks, such as cigarette smoke, alcohol and other toxic substances. All three of these can lead to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, the result of which ultimately leads to aging and premature death. Yet all three of these are self-inflicted, therefore by this reasoning, it is logical to conclude that it must be possible to delay the onset of aging by changing our habits and lifestyle.

It has been repeatedly reported by scientists that stress is the new ticking aging time bomb — it is so powerful and so dangerous to us that it can age us rapidly and prematurely at a rate that wouldn't seem possible until it actually happens. Stress is often the underlying cause of poor diet and lack of physical activity. In addition, stress is usually given as the reason why one might ‘need’ a cigarette or a drink.

A New Molecular Mechanism Behind Stress-Related Aging?

Nevertheless, the exact mechanism by which stress takes a hold of the body and physically ages it is largely still unknown, however it does have an impact on the rate of cellular aging. New research data point to a particular mechanism in our cells that may be behind stress and stress-related aging processes. Every chromosome in the body is protected by repetitive regions of DNA known as telomeres. These telomeres act in the same way as the plastic tip on the end of a shoelace and prevent the chromosome from becoming frayed and damaged. As we age, our cells divide via mitosis, with the telomeres shorten in length after each division. This process links telomeres directly to the process of aging.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Finkel T and Holbrook NJ, 2000, Oxidants, oxidative stress and the biology of ageing. Nature, 408, 239-247
  • Passarge, Eberhard, 2007, Color Atlas of Genetics
  • Pellatt AJ et al, 2012, Genetic and lifestyle influence on telomere length and subsequent risk of colon cancer in a case control study. Int J Mol Epidemiol Genet., 3(3), 184-194
  • Epel ES et al, 2010, Dynamics of telomerase activity in response to acute psychological stress. Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, 24(4), 531-539.
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