Anxiety Linked to Shortened Telomeres, Accelerated Aging
A new study by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) shows that a common form of anxiety, known as phobic anxiety, was associated with shorter telomeres in middle-aged and older women. The study suggests that phobic anxiety is a possible risk factor for accelerated aging.
Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes. They protect chromosomes from deteriorating and guard the genetic information at the ends of chromosomes during cell division. Telomeres are considered markers of biological or cellular aging. Shortened telomeres have been linked to increased risk of cancers, heart disease, dementia and mortality.
In this large, cross-sectional study, researchers had obtained blood samples from 5,243 women, age 42 to 69 years, who were participants in the Nurses' Health Study. Using the samples, the researchers analyzed telomere lengths, as well as the participants' concurrent self-reports regarding phobic symptoms on a validated questionnaire.
Having a high phobic anxiety level was associated with significantly shorter telomere lengths. The difference in telomere lengths for women who were highly phobic vs. not was similar to what was seen for an additional six years of age.
"Many people wonder about whether-and how-stress can make us age faster," said Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, BWH Department of Psychiatry, study author. "So, this study is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress-phobic anxiety-and a plausible mechanism for premature aging. However, this type of study design cannot prove cause-and-effect or which problem came first-the anxiety or shorter telomeres."
The findings pave the way for further prospective investigations relating anxiety to telomere length change.
This research was supported by a Harvard Medical School Shore Fellowship award and grants from the National Institutes of Health.
The above story is based on the July 11, 2012 news release by the Brigham and Women's Hospital.
The study is electronically published on July 11, 2012:
Okereke OI, Prescott J, Wong JYY, Han J, Rexrode KM, Immaculata De Vivo I, Okereke OI. High Phobic Anxiety Is Related to Lower Leukocyte Telomere Length in Women. PLoS ONE: Research Article, published 11 Jul 2012 10.1371/journal.pone.0040516.
Click HERE to read the complete research paper.
The Anxiety and Depression Association ofAmerica offers tips to manage anxiety and stress.
Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress
When you're feeling anxious or stressed, these strategies will help you cope:
- Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
- Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
- Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
- Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn't possible, be proud of however close you get.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
- Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
- Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
- Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
Fitness Tips: Stay Healthy, Manage Stress
- For the biggest benefits of exercise, try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.
- 5 X 30: Jog, walk, bike, or dance three to five times a week for 30 minutes.
- Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It's better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon. Lots of scientific data suggests that frequency is most important.
- Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes and group activities. People who are more introverted often prefer solo pursuits.
- Distract yourself with an iPod or other portable media player to download audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Many people find it’s more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.
- Recruit an “exercise buddy.” It's often easier to stick to your exercise routine when you have to stay committed to a friend, partner, or colleague.
- Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary people require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.