We’ve all heard the jokes about stress turning our hair grey, and everyone understands that stress feels uncomfortable and can cause short term health and psychological issues. However, there was never any conclusive proof that chronic stress could actually shorten your life span by accelerating the aging process until recently.
Stress actually damages your DNA
New research indicates that chronic stress like the kind we experience in high stress occupations actually erodes and damages critical parts of our DNA over time. This damage and erosion can increase our odds of living a shorter life span.
The study showed that those under chronic stress exhibited shortened telomeres. Telomeres are the protective edges that bind the ends of DNA strands together. The damage of these telomeres leads to errors in how the DNA instructs cells to behave, so their length is directly tied to our longevity.
The shortening and damage of these mechanisms leads to a heightened potential for mutations in otherwise healthy cells and genes. When our genetic code and transmission is broken, it means our bodies have a higher likelihood of cancer and other life shortening diseases and generally poor health.
The evidence shows that stress can actually shorten your life span by as much as four to eight years depending on how you handle it and your genetic predispositions and general health. Exercise and a healthy diet can help offset some of the damage done by stress, but chronic and heavy stress is a hard thing to completely overcome by lifestyle alone.
Stress makes you sick
Not only does stress facilitate damaged DNA and shorten life spans. It can also literally make you get sick a lot more often than you should. Studies have shown that it also damages the chromosomes and mechanisms responsible for the health and functionality of your immune system.
When our immune system is compromised, it’s easy to catch every little virus that comes along. It also makes it harder for our bodies to fight off disease and cancer since our immune cells are our front line defense against all things unhealthy.
Managing stress effectively does help
How you manage stress can be a huge benefit and may impact how your DNA reacts to chronic, high stress. Exercise has shown enormous benefits in the biometric readings that are associated with stress; such as blood pressure, heart rate and levels of harmful “stress hormones.”
Exercise and movement help you to blow off the steam that builds from pressures on the job, in your personal life, financial stress and other common stressors. Managed breathing can also help to bring down the biological responses that occur with psychological stress.
Visualization and meditation can also produce visible, favorable changes in your body’s stress response. If you can manage the biological responses that occur, then you can minimize the damage done to the DNA and add some precious (stress free) years to your life here on earth.
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