Relax. It’s good for you.

New research about how stress affects aging.

Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash

Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash

View full image

At a time when many of us are feeling more stress than ever, it’s probably no surprise to learn that scientists have long suspected that chronic stress can make you feel a whole lot older. But now it’s more than a suspicion. In recent years, research has shown that epigenetic age—that is, a sign of chemical wear and tear on a person’s DNA over time—is not only a better indicator of health and longevity than calendar age, but is also directly influenced by stress. (Or, in the immortal words of Indiana Jones: “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”)

In a study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, a team of Yale psychiatry researchers have taken on this proposition, using an epigenetic clock known as “GrimAge” to ask and answer two questions: How much does stress accelerate aging at the biological level? Can we do anything to slow the process?

The Yale team, led by Professor of Psychiatry Rajita Sinha and psychiatry resident Zachary Harvanek, reviewed blood samples from a young, generally healthy group of 444 people between the ages of 19 and 50. They looked at markers of health and aging. Even after adjusting for the range of backgrounds and behavior, Sinha’s team found that the most chronically stressed participants showed accelerated aging, putting them more at risk for stress-associated conditions like cardiac and metabolic conditions, mood disorders, and insulin resistance.

Stress did not affect everyone in the same way, though. Participants who scored well on factors related to mental resilience—particularly, emotional regulation and self-control—were better able to soften the impact of stress on biological aging.

Harvanek says that stress “can feel unavoidable, particularly in our current times.

But even seemingly small steps like being aware of your emotions and how you respond to them might help combat not just the mental toll of stress, but the physical consequences as well.”

The comment period has expired.