Stress really can shorten your life. And science tells us why by looking at our DNA. Specifically by looking at what happens to a protective cell cap called a telomere. Avoiding stress is not the answer though. This is about building resilience. And resilience to stressors is the real fountain of youth. In this piece I am referring mainly to mental stress. However stress in it’s extended form applies to anything that your body has to respond to. And recent advances in science show that it’s the purposeful application of stress that halts or reverses the effects of ageing.
There are two types of mental stress. One leads to dis-stress.., and the other leads ideally to a type of anti fragility. Anti fragility I will define as the effect of pressure improving performance. The more pressure you get, the more resilient, productive and positive you become. It’s different than being resistant to stress or strong in the face of negativity. Although challenging to master, this is being an active yes to stress and adversity because it makes you a better person. It’s an attitude and a habit.
You don’t have to be anti fragile to be resilient though. Simple skills and habits of releasing stress will literally extend the life of the cells in your body.
What happens to cells under stress and why do we age
Our cells contain DNA. And this double helix structure contains genes that code the building blocks of our body. Cells are constantly dividing and making perfect copies of themselves. And this is usually done due to some form of stress on the cell. Sometimes in this process mistakes happen. But we have caps on the end of these strands called telomeres to stop mistakes. This can only happen a finite number of times for each cell however before the cell dies. This is, in simplistic terms, the process of ageing.
Some cells like immune cells can add these telomeres back. Which makes sense considering how often they have to fight infection. In the case of these cells, ageing can be reversed. Even these cells start to lose the ability to do that in our 80’s though. Which is why for most people at that age, the risk from infection is higher.
Excess alcohol, smoking, being overweight and stress all increase the loss of these telomeres and reduce the ability of them being replaced. This leads to premature ageing. If I were to go further down the rabbit hole on ageing, the answer being discovered by scientists is that ageing occurs because of a break down in communication at the cellular level.
Give your cells the fountain of youth
Your cell’s eventual dying is unavoidable. But you can slow the process down and even reverse it to a certain extent. Whatever makes you feel better is going to effect your cells in the same way. Feeling better does translate to being healthier. And there is science to prove it.
So, eat more of a plant based diet where possible (research link below).
Exercise.., especially intense or prolonged (research link below).
Make sure you are getting enough sleep (research link below).
Try fasting or time restricted eating (research link below)
Become resilient to stress and resourceful by embracing stressful events (research link below).
And learn to re-frame anxiety inducing events as exciting. Find ways to deal with stress in a healthy way. That means accepting the situation and taking some form of action to change it and learn from it.
Practice mindfulness or times of purposeful relaxation. Laugh, socialise, listen to music, read a book, play a video game.
Resilience means bouncing back after a stressful event. And if that requires new habits then the rewards are worth it.
Ageing is compulsory. Healthy ageing, is a choice.
At least so far ageing is compulsory. But that is changing faster than you could imagine with advances in stem cell research.