I’ve written about stress before, but I was compelled to write on this topic again after some of the interactions I’ve had this week.
Psychological stress and anxiety can’t be completely avoided, they are a part of life. Did you know that there is a 50% increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) for people who deal with chronic work stress? That’s a 50 percent greater chance than the average person has of developing CVD if you are stressed at work and don’t change your environment.
Stress can further increase the diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Before running to the doctor for a prescription to make the symptoms disappear, it is important to identify your stressors. It may be work-related, family-related, or a combination of things. Stress is a reaction. The brain is involved in a person’s stress response (e.g., interprets what is threatening) and then regulates both how your body responds both physiologically and behaviorally.
Studies have found that the following can help decrease your body’s response to stress:
1) Exercise. Exercise increases the level of telomerase produced. Telomerase is an enzyme that protects loss of DNA from important end region of our chromosomes called telomeres. Think of a telomere like the protective piece at the end of a shoestring. Studies have found that elite athletes have very long telomeres.
2) Your Social Network. I’m not just taking about how many Facebook or Twitter followers you have! People with a strong partner relationship and close friendships have been found to be at lower risk for diseases associated with aging and to have less of a stress response to situations such as public speaking (which can evoke fear in many).
3) Better quality of sleep. The average person needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. People who got a better quality of sleep and woke up feeling rested have, on average, longer telomeres than those who suffered from poor quality sleep.
4) Nutrition. Individuals diagnosed with obesity and insulin resistance had shorter telomeres than others, whereas those who consumed a diet containing antioxidants and added supplements such as omega 3s had longer telomeres.
The lesson to take from this is that if we can embrace these preventive measures, we can increase our body’s resilience. As resilience increases, so does our ability to age well.