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LGLWSM Newsletter Issue 017 - Stress and Aging – How the Two Affect You
October 15, 2008

Stress and Aging – How the Two Affect You

There is a definite link between stress and aging. Stress is non-discriminatory. It affects you and it affects me, and can be responsible for looking much older than your chronological age. When you become overwhelmed, you stress out. With added economic turmoil lately, it’s hard to not be confused, frustrated, and disillusioned.

In fact, stress is the number one factor in why this newsletter is late this month. I’ve been under a lot of it recently as my son turned legally 18 last month. His disabilities caused an overload of ‘extra’ responsibilities that were dumped in my lap! Handling them all, has been an excruciatingly hard experience, when coupled with work and time management. Lately, I feel more like 100 years old, instead of almost 50! That’s why I thought it would be a good time to talk about the effects of stress and aging.

Aging itself causes degenerative changes in the cells, organs, and tissues of your body. Outward signs start reflecting the aging process and involve things like getting your first gray hairs, or discovering wrinkles. Other physical changes also occur. Energy levels plummet, sleeping patterns change, dark circles may appear under eyes, and your skin may begin to sag. Your body's natural defenses against stress gradually break down with age. Decreases in hormone levels can cause many negative changes to happen quickly!

There are also some other less obvious contributors to aging, which include the use of harsh chemicals, tanning, lack of sufficient water, and extreme weather conditions. While nothing much can be done to modify hereditary genes, knowing the other causes of aging can help prevent premature aging.

Stress is typically labeled as either physical or emotional. Both are equally hard to deal with. The impacts of physical stress, are clear. As people age, wounds heal more slowly and illnesses and/or accidents happen more frequently.

Stress hormones provide energy and focus in the short term. Too much stress over too many years can throw a person's system off-balance. Emotional stress causes more subtle changes, but if it's chronic enough, the eventual consequences can be very harmful.

When you are under stress, your brain sounds an alarm that releases potentially harmful hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, into your system. These hormones are necessary to handle the demands of stress on your body, but over time, can take their toll. Ideally, your brain will shut down the alarm when stress hormones get too high. Chronic stress however, has been linked to a multitude of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and weakened immunity.

With aging, your brain can slowly lose its ability to regulate hormone levels. As a result, people who feel worried or anxious tend to produce larger amounts of stress hormones if stress levels linger and mount up. According to a 2005 study, women are especially susceptible to an overload of stress hormones as they age. The study found that for aging women, cortisol levels were three times higher for women than for men.

More About Stress and Aging

Stress doesn't just make a person feel older. It can actually speed up aging. A 2004 study found that stress can add years to your cells. The study focused on telomeres. (Caps on the end of chromosomes.) Whenever a cell divides, telomeres in that cell get a little shorter and a little more time runs off the clock. When the telomere become too short, time runs out. Shortened cells can no longer divide. Large amounts of stress accelerate the process and reduce a telomere life span, which speeds up deterioration of the body. Telomerase is the enzyme that rebuilds telomeres and as aging occurs, a decline in enzyme telomerase also occurs. This is a key process of aging, and it's one of the reasons humans can't live forever.

To test the theory, researchers checked both the telomeres and the stress levels of 58 healthy pre-menopausal women. The result: On average, the immune system cells of highly stressed women had aged by an extra 10 years.

Multi-tasking is also responsible for increased stress levels. Women are naturally better at multi-tasking than men, but when you’re better at it, you tend to do more of it. Therefore, it’s no wonder that women experience stress differently from men. Women tend to take on much more responsibility in life’s daily activities.

The good news is that you can use what you learn about stress and aging to work for you. Learn to manage and reduce your stress and you will have a better chance to live a long, healthy life.

Reduce the Effects of Stress and Aging

Maintaining a positive outlook is one key. A study by Yale University found that people who live life with the ‘glass half full’, live about seven and a half years longer than people who view life as the ‘glass half empty’. Researchers say the people with more positive attitudes may also deal with stress better and have a stronger will to live.

Staying close to friends and family is an excellent way to cut down on stress. Social support can help prevent stress and stress-related diseases. The benefits of friends and family can be especially striking for seniors. Social support can slow down the flow of stress hormones in seniors and, not coincidentally, increase longevity. Other studies have found that social interactions can help older people stay mentally sharp and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Another way to reduce stress and aging is to cut back on fast foods. In this age of fast food culture, many people avoid eating proper nutritious diets, which include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. The more junk food you eat, the more you will lack key antioxidants. When you don’t get enough antioxidants, your body will be more susceptible to more free radicals, which promote disease and aging. For this reason, be sure to get the right antiaging vitamin supplements!

Lack of enough sleep can also add to the aging process. Lack of rest can cause under eye circles, wrinkles, tired and puffy eyes, and overall weakness. Working long hours without rest can cause excess pressure on joints, which weakens your body and even causes an early onset of many medical conditions including osteoporosis.

Exercise, a proven stress-buster for people of all ages, may be especially valuable in later years. Regular walks, bike rides, or water aerobics can do more than keep a person strong. Exercise can actually help block the effects of aging. Moderate exercises on a regular basis can keep the body and mind active and alert. Stretching exercises helps to maintain the overall flexibility of joints. Lack of exercise can increase the body weight and can make you more prone to heart disease, certain types of Cancer, high blood pressure, and early onset of all sorts of other age related diseases.

A 2005 study found that physically fit women in their mid-60s had essentially the same response to stress as a group of unfit women in their late 20s. In contrast, women in their mid-60s who weren't physically fit released much larger amounts of cortisol in response to stress.

Take a spa day! If you can afford it, get a regular massage, facial, or whatever! If you can't, you can give yourself a spa day at home. My site has a mosh of really great home remedies that will help you feel and look better!

Here are a few of my home remedies pages:

Homemade Facial Masks

Homemade Lemon Beauty Tips

Homemade Hair Remedy Treatments

Anything that reduces unnecessary stress can make aging more enjoyable. Other methods to reduce stress and aging are relaxation techniques or simply just breathing. Remembering to breathe ‘in and out’ is key! Whatever the approach, fighting stress overload is worth the effort. Many people who do, end up feeling younger, healthier, and happier!

Until next month!

Stay Sweet and Be Beautiful!


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