One of the challenges for scientists has been to work out why psychological stress seems to damage the body physically. And the secret may be in shoelaces.
Well, not the laces, but the ends of them. And not the shoelace ends exactly, but things just like them, called telomeres, at the end of our chromosomes. Enter Professor Elizabeth Blackwell who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the enzyme telomerase.
Chromosomes hold most of our genes. And telomeres are involved in ageing. Each time a cell divides, the telomere shortens, and when they become too short , the cell can no longer divide and “usually turns up its toes”. The key to this process is the enzyme telomerase.
In a recent study women who had a child with a chronic illness, and were measurably under stress, were compared to women with low stress levels. The results showed that the longer the women had been under stress, the shorter their telomeres.
In fact the most stressed women had cells that were about 10 years older than their chronological age. The unifying feature of this stress response is the body’s chronic secretion of the hormone cortisol.
Professor Blackwell’s work uncovered a group of woman carers who had normal length telomeres. What was different with these women? It turns out they had a regular meditation practice.
If you want to look at her work in depth here is a link to her TED talk.
So if you feel that you would like to be proactive and reduce your rate of stress induced ageing consider meditation. (click here).
The bottom line : Taking care of your emotional health and well-being can reduce your biological age by up to 16 years younger. In addition your ability to deal with stress is likely to enable those around you to cope better and/or be encouraged to explore what may diminish their own stress levels.