Stress Can Increase Your Risk of Mortality
Researchers at King’s College London examined data on the effects of stress on mortality (Hotopf, Henderson, & Kuh, 2008). The subjects self-reported their stress levels. The chilling finding was a strong association between higher levels of self-reported stress and all causes of death. Stress can affect the body in so many different ways that finding the means by which stress leads to death at earlier ages is complicated.
Nonetheless, one important connection needs to be examined. Research on telomeres may hold an answer. Telomeres are distinctive structures at the ends of our chromosomes. They are sections of DNA. The form like a cap, much like a plastic tip on shoelaces, that works to protect the chromosome. The telomeres allow the chromosomes to be replicated in cell division. Every time a cell carries out DNA replication, the telomeres are shortened. As we age, telomeres get shorter. They play a major role in cancer as well as in aging.
Oxidative stress, such as diet, smoking, and stress, make telomeres shorter, too. Many studies have now demonstrated links between chronic stress and higher oxidative stress. In addition, the chronic stress is associated with lower telomerase activity and shorter telomere length. Shorter telomere length is associated with advanced aging of the body. When a telomere gets too short, after many replications and possibly increased oxidative stress, it reaches a ‘critical length’ and can no longer be replicated, triggering the cell to die.
Newborn babies usually have long telomeres. Telomeres get shorter as we age. There are ways that have been found to increase the length of existing telomeres or reduce the shortening effects of stress. Obviously, avoiding chronic stress is one way to reduce or slow down the shortening of the telomeres. However, one of the ways that many people choose to deal with stress has been shown to be highly effective at actually lengthening telomeres. Aerobic exercise lengthens telomeres and reduces stress according to several studies (Puterman et al, 2018). In the Puterman study, high stress caregivers completed 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 times a week for 24 weeks.
Aerobic exercise is an excellent way to reduce built-up muscle stiffness from sitting at your computer all day working. “Working” may not seem like stress to some, but if working means thinking, then it is definitely stress. At the end of each day, the built up stress should be reduced and aerobic exercise is a good way to do it. Apparently, there is an added benefit of increasing your chances of living a longer, happier, and more productive life.