Chronic Stress May Make You Age Faster

If you're healthy, active and know how to handle chronic stress, you might age better than your friends.

Aging is part of life; the body tends to downshift as the decades gather. But chronic stress may speed up the process — and stress management might slow it down.

So say Elissa Epel, Ph.D., and colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco's psychiatry department.

Their review of the research on chronic stress and hormonal shifts linked to aging will be presented tomorrow at the American Psychological Association's 2006 convention in New Orleans.

Out Of Balance

Some hormonal changes are a normal part of aging. But the hormone profiles of elderly people vary greatly, note Epel and colleagues.

Chronic stress — the type that drags on, rather than being just a momentary crisis — can affect hormone levels and shift the body's delicate hormone balance, the researchers note.

"In this way, there may be synergistic effects of aging and chronic stress," Epel's team writes.

Social isolation, financial stress, bereavement, and care-giving are among the stressors many older adults face, the researchers note.

But some people are less rattled by such stress than others.

"Although older people are exposed to more chronic stressors, they do not necessarily experience greater daily stress," the researchers write.

Older people may choose to take such stressors in stride. It's a skill people of all ages might want to learn, the researchers note.

Stress Management

A stress-free life probably isn't realistic. But stress management is.

Epel cites these stress-control techniques:

  • Moderate exercise
  • Good sleep
  • Managing your expectations and goals
  • Acceptance — not trying to control things you can't
  • Finding meaning
  • Strengthening meaningful social ties
  • Spiritual or religious beliefs

    SOURCES:: American Psychological Association 2006 Convention, New Orleans, Aug. 10-13, 2006. News release, American Psychological Association.

    By Miranda Hitti
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
    © 2006, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved