Stress ages you, and shorter telomeres is only one reason why. Scientists have found that how people deal with their stress is key. People who handle stress well do more of the things that non-stressed people do: eat well, sleep enough and, especially, exercise. And these people tend to have longer telomeres than stressed people who do not, explained Aiofe O’Donovan, a research psychologist at UCSF.
Of course, stress can make you feel less motivated to do health-promoting things, so you can try techniques to divert yourself from feeling stressed, such as practicing mindfulness meditation, which has been linked to greater activity of the enzyme that controls and protects telomere length.
An MRI-based study from 2010 showed that after an eight-week meditation program, the density of gray matter had increased in regions of the brain that control, among other things, emotion regulation and perspective. Growth of new tissue and connections in the brain make that area more powerful and more efficient. It’s akin to building up a muscle, only in this case it’s a muscle for stress control. Neuropsychologists say that even while sitting at your desk you can push back against stress by regularly taking a few long, deep, slow breaths and by picturing yourself out in nature, paying close attention to how it would smell and feel.
Have a hobby
What could collecting or crafting have to do with aging? A lot, it turns out. Researchers have studied the link between better health and a person’s participation in an outside interest or activity. A study in Japan of almost 2,000 people ages 65 to 84 found that, compared with people who did not have hobbies, those who participated in a hobby had a significantly lower mortality and a lower likelihood of becoming bedridden during the period studied.
And a small 2010 study from Serbia found that having a hobby was linked to a lower risk of hypertension in female emergency room doctors, perhaps because it helped release tension and therefore helped prevent harmful behaviors such as smoking and drinking. Other studies have linked hobbies to keeping your brain active and providing a social connection with others, which tends to make you happier — another factor linked to greater health and longevity.
Pressler is the author of the recently released book “Cheat the Clock,” from which this is adapted.