stress and biological age
stress and biological age

How The Effects Of Stress Can Add Years On To Your Life

Posted on October 23, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff

Avoiding stress can feel nearly impossible. Reading or listening to the news inevitably leads to some feelings of stress over things happening globally, nationally or locally. You likely also have some stressors—such as health or finances—that hit closer to home. And then there are the seemingly endless everyday stresses of work, school schedules, cooking and other household chores.

“Stress affects so many aspects of our lives as well as our health,” says Nazia Munir, M.D., a family medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. “Stress can even make our bodies seem older than they really are.”

What Is Biological Age?

You might not realize it, but you actually have two different ages. First, there’s your chronological age. That’s the one you can count by the number of birthday candles you blow out each year.

And then there’s your biological age (sometimes called your functional age). “That’s a measure of how old your body is on a cellular level,” says Dr. Munir. Your biological age reflects your overall health, how well your body is aging and how well all its systems are functioning.

“Your chronological age and biological age don’t always line up,” says Dr. Munir. “Those numbers can be very different depending on how well you’re taking care of yourself.”

For example, a chronological 60-year-old could have a biological age closer to 40 if they manage stress well and practice healthy lifestyle habits. But the opposite is also true. That same 60-year-old with unhealthy habits and chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease could have a biological age closer to 80.

The Ways Stress Affects Your Body

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Contrary to popular belief, stress isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, we need some stress. “The stress response is your body’s natural mechanism for protection,” says Dr. Munir. “It triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is essential for survival.”

Problems arise when your body is under constant stress. The fight or flight response triggers a release of hormones such as cortisol. In small doses, cortisol helps your body handle stressful situations. But consistently high levels of cortisol can have negative impacts on your overall health.

“When cortisol levels remain high all the time, it can lead to inflammation throughout the body,” says Dr. Munir. “And chronic inflammation is the culprit behind many health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, dementia and even cancer.”

It’s not surprising that someone who’s under chronic stress will wind up aging faster than the calendar says.

Find Stress Management Techniques That Work For You

Everyone has stress. The difference in how that stress affects your health comes down to how well you handle it. Coping with stress is all about finding healthy lifestyle strategies that work for you.

“Stress management strategies are not a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Dr. Munir. “What works for one person may not work for another.” Anything that takes you temporarily away from stressful situations, engages your mind differently or helps quiet your brain can help relieve stress.

Devote even just five minutes once or twice a day to trying out some different ways to cope with stress. Stress management techniques can include:

  • Working on a craft project
  • Doing a five-minute yoga video
  • Dancing to your favorite song
  • Reading a book
  • Calling a friend
  • Taking a walk

Healthy Lifestyle Strategies To Lower Your Biological Age

Unlike your chronological age, your biological age is not set in stone. “Making healthy lifestyle choices can be very impactful at any point in your life,” says Dr. Munir.

Don’t add to your stress by suddenly trying to revamp your diet, exercise and make several other changes all at once. Dr. Munir suggests setting small goals that don’t feel overwhelming. Instead of a complete diet overhaul, start by adding one vegetable or piece of fruit to every meal. Instead of trying to squeeze in an hour-long workout, commit to five minutes of activity every day.

“Even a small change in your lifestyle can have a big impact,” says Dr. Munir.

Reviewed by Dr. Nazia Munir, a family medicine doctor who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township.

Categories : FeelWell

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