Stress kills, literally. It can affect people down to their DNA, causing damage to the protective telomeres on the ends of chromosomes. This eventually causes rapid cell death and aging. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the damage stress causes. Below are the 3 steps to take in order to age well despite the stress.
Step 1: Identify and mitigate the major stressors.
In order to actually reduce and combat stress, first, you have to identify what those stressors are. Some triggers are more easily identifiable while others are more intangible. For example, financial strain is a major identifiable stress for many people. Others may have chronic diseases that cause them stress, work issues, or marriage issues. Poverty and discrimination are examples of intangible but definitive stressors for many.
Identifying stressors is important in order to eliminate them. Obviously, eliminating stressors is easier said than done. For example, housing instability is a major cause of stress that is not easily resolved. However, some people have the option to remove themselves from the stressful situation, however hard it may be. Switching jobs, if that’s the stressor, can be difficult, but for many people, it can be done. Whatever the stressor, mitigating it in whatever way possible is the first step.
Step 2: Identify healthy coping mechanisms.
Because many stressors can’t be completely eliminated, it’s also important to incorporate healthy coping mechanisms into your life. These include meditation and mindfulness, a healthy diet, exercise, and obviously avoiding bad coping mechanisms.
Eating well means incorporating a well-rounded diet into your everyday routine. This includes fiber, limited protein, and increased anti-oxidants. One study on rats’ round that rats whose protein intake was reduced by 40% lived 15% longer and had longer telomeres than the control rats. They found that those longer-living rats had lower appetites, lower growth, but a long lifespan. They hypothesize that this dietary lifestyle may be related to why the Japanese
population is consistently the longest living. The Japanese high-carbohydrate, low-protein may play a role in delaying telomere shortening. Soy was also associated with an increased lifespan rather than casein-based protein. Lastly, the antioxidant omega-3 fatty acid is associated with reduced shortening of the telomeres. A lack of those fatty acids, on the other hand, is associated with an increased telomere shortening. In particular, foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene in addition to omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to increase lifespan and reduce the risk for breast cancer.
In studies, exercise has been shown to preserve telomere length. Specifically, longer duration of exercise correlates with less damage to telomeres. Exercise has also been shown to reduce fat, which can be harmful to telomeres, and help reduce oxidative stress.
Meditation and mindfulness are coping mechanisms that have been shown to decrease oxidative stress and improve the endocrine imbalance associated with chronic stress. Based on what we already know about telomere length and oxidative stress, this would suggest that mindfulness preserves telomere length or even reduces shortening. However, more research needs to be done on mindfulness and telomere length in order to get a clearer, definitive understanding.
Step 3: Build your support network.
One major way to combat stress is to use your support network. It has been shown that social isolation is a major predictor of mortality. Conversely, better support networks improve the aging experience. This may look different for everyone. Some people may use their place of work as a basis of socialization. Others may rely on other friends or family. Some religious organizations may form the basis of support networks for others. Many people, regardless of
network size, could use a therapist. Therapists help people recognize thought and action patterns that are deleterious to their health. They also help people start new mechanisms that are beneficial.
Taking care of your health means taking care of your stress. While that may be easier said than done, there are three steps you can take to begin. First, identify your stressors and ways to mitigate them. Second, develop good coping mechanisms and avoid harmful ones. Lastly, build a support network to reduce social isolation and help you keep your good coping mechanisms going. With these efforts, you can reduce your stress. When stress is reduced, your telomeres stay longer, which helps you live longer. To learn more about how to age healthily, contact us at the Anti-Aging and Wellness Clinic today.