A little bit of stress is important to keep you awake, active, and motivated. However, when we experience chronic periods of intense stress, our bodies begin to feel the burden. This April is Stress Awareness Month and a perfect time to acknowledge what you’re feeling and why.
The Health Resource Network, a non-profit organization, decided to set aside these four weeks to improve awareness about the dangers of stress and begin the promotion of healthy habits, on a national level. Adding to the recognition of how stress affects our health, new research has come out showing that chronic psychological stress may actually take years off your life, acting on a cellular level. Have we mentioned the importance of telomeres?
Many conditions of poor health, including the inevitable fate of aging, have been linked with the shortening of telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps on our chromosomes that enable successful cell division and replication. These structures have come to the forefront of the battle for long-term health.
Findings from University of California, San Francisco, (UCSF) investigators presented April 4 added to an emerging body of evidence that psychological stress may accelerate shortening of telomeres, and how regular exercise may help to prevent it. In addition, a new study published in the March issue of PLoS ONE, showed that chronic depression is linked with accelerated reduction of telomere length. Researchers from the University of California San Francisco, including Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, matched 18 individuals with a history of major depressive disorders with 17 control participants. The researchers measured leukocyte (white blood cell) telomere length, as well as assessed oxidative stress and inflammatory markers.
Leukocytes are important cells for immune function and pathogen resistance. The authors looked specifically at leukocytes to view how our protective pathways are specifically impacted by psychological stress.
The participants that suffered from chronic depression had significantly shorter telomeres. Additionally, telomere length was inversely related to oxidative and inflammatory stress. Or rather, more stress and more cell destruction, equals shorter telomeres. The authors gathered that a cascade of stress hormones, “chronic inflammation and oxidation may be mechanisms by which chronic depression can result in shortened telomeres.”
These results add evidence to the widely observed phenomenon that chronically depressed persons have a greater incidence for chronic conditions and mortality.
The results of this study are not meant to cause you additional anxiety. Experiencing concern that your body is undergoing too much stress is precisely what we want to avoid! So be aware, there is a light at the end of this tunnel! Simple, conscious daily activities will help mitigate chronic stressors and keep your body healthy.
Whether you are trying to protect your leukocytes, delay the onset of aging or simply looking to clear your mind, here are a few daily rituals to put yourself at ease provided by none other than our own Facebook fans and Twitter followers:
- Tina Bowers has this advice, “Take a sack lunch and eat it at the park while watching the ducks.” Seriously, what is more relaxing than that! Better yet, try “wandering in the bush,” and don’t forget a suit for “swimming,” suggests Cherie Burke. Kevin Boulton also advises taking in nature, “First thing in the morning drinking 1 oz of Ionix® Supreme, helps me relax [we agree, the product’s adaptogens can help the body cope with stress]. The other thing is I like to take a drive with my wife and take in the countryside.”
- Lorri Hollingsworth adds “meditation and deep breathing… aaaahh!” While this recommendation may be overstated—we feel its place is particularly important this month. Meditation not only has been linked to stress reduction and reducing the rate of telomeres, but it has also been associated with positive self-image, improved memory and concentration. Recent research has shown that meditation actually changes your brain’s gray matter!
- “Good sleep,” suggests Juan Avila. Going without good sleep can definitely add a hearty amount of stress.
- Several folks mentioned physical activity including Kathleen Morin, Rodney Bugg, Gregory Valiquette, and Karen Powers who like walking or jogging, Joanne Mikula who enjoys Iyengar yoga, Barbara Badgley who hits the gym, Yossi Montrose who exercises using a Performa Ball, and Jamal Eriksson who practices a few karate strikes on his makiwara. Andrea Garrote from Twitter adds “riding horses!” Healthy weight, a healthy heart and a healthy attitude are all reasons to take up exercise; however, increased activity also has been shown to mitigate the impact of stress on telomere length! Lengthen that walk and perhaps, lengthen your protective DNA.
- Guruprasad Naik says, “talking to frenz… and music.” It’s true. Socializing is a powerful stress reliever, as Marion Moss knows; her advice, “swim or chat with wonderful people.” If friends aren’t around, consider how Kristi O’Neill from Twitter relieves stress: “walking my dog, reading a romance novel, or watching a movie.”
O’Brien. 2011. “Exercise May Prevent Impact of Stress on Telomeres, A Measure of Cell Health.” University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). April 4, 2011.
Wolkowitz OM, Mellon SH, Epel ES et al. Leukocyte telomere length in major depression: correlations with chronicity, inflammation and oxidative stress – preliminary findings. PLoS One 2011;6:e17837.