Manage Your Stress Chapter 18

Stress Makes You Age Faster


Tales of the Telomeres

At the very ends of each chromosome is a zone called the telomere. It has been likened to the tip of a shoelace, keeping the end material from unraveling. Each time a cell divides, the telomere becomes a bit shorter, which means that as we age the telomeres are fraying. In recent years, researchers have found that people under extraordinary stress tend to have shortened telomeres, a sign that stress prematurely ages our cells.

Now, many researchers are delving into the mysteries of telomeres. They want to find out why some people under great stress do not seem to have shorter telomeres. Through analyzing the telomeres in immune cells from 63 women, they found that vigorous physical activity was associated with normal telomere length in those under great stress. In fact, the non-exercisers showed a 15-fold increase in the odds of having short telomeres for every point of increase on a stress scale, compared with the exercisers.


Preserve Your Memories

The example of post-traumatic stress disorder patients having shrunken hippocampus tissue is dramatic. However, a similar process can take place in the brain, even if you have never been in battle or suffered a devastating event. Chronic stress can expose the hippocampus to too much cortisol, resulting in the deterioration of neuronal connections between the cells that conduct messages in this part of the brain. Because the hippocampus is vital to learning and certain kinds of memory, those functions suffer when the damage becomes too extensive.

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