In an article published online on July 29, 2014 in Molecular Psychiatry, Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, and her colleagues report a benefit for positive lifestyle practices in combating the negative effects of stress on telomeres: protective caps at the ends of chromosomes whose rate of shortening is viewed as a marker of aging.
By following 239 healthy postmenopausal women, researchers at UC San Francisco uncovered a significantly increased decline in white blood cell telomere length in association with every major life stressor that occurred over the previous year. However, those who reported greater levels of positive health factors at four time points, including a consuming a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity and experiencing quality sleep, appeared to be protected from stress’s adverse effects.
“The study participants who exercised, slept well and ate well had less telomere shortening than the ones who didn’t maintain healthy lifestyles, even when they had similar levels of stress,” reported lead author Eli Puterman, PhD, who is an assistant professor at the university’s department of psychiatry. “It’s very important that we promote healthy living, especially under circumstances of typical experiences of life stressors like death, caregiving and job loss.”
“This is the first study that supports the idea, at least observationally, that stressful events can accelerate immune cell aging in adults, even in the short period of one year,” he announced. “Exciting, though, is that these results further suggest that keeping active, and eating and sleeping well during periods of high stress are particularly important to attenuate the accelerated aging of our immune cells.”