We’ve already seen how Aging can lead to a reduction in some of the neurotransmitters that make us feel good and we’ve seen how this can lead to low mood as well as impaired cognitive function. We’ve also seen how this can be mitigated both with the right nutrient regime and with constant learning and trying new things.
As we’ll see, hormones also play a big role in this.
But there are other factors at play here too. For example, there are the life-style factors that can lead many older people to start feeling more isolated and lonely and this is further exacerbated by pain, lack of mobility and lack of a ‘purpose’. And sadly, this creates something of a ‘vicious cycle’. When we are robbed of our purpose and meaning, it leaves us feel less motivated and less happy.
In turn, this leads to even more indifference, low energy and low mood. And what you might also not recognize is just what a huge role stress and depression can cause in Aging. Stress actually wreaks absolute havoc on your body and can be devastating to your mood, your self-esteem and yes, your skin. That’s when you lose your purpose, it’s when you stop being challenged and it’s when your social structure breaks down.
So what do you do? Work well into old age? A better alternative is to find something to do instead – something that will give you all that structure and all that confidence but without involving so much stress. In fact, you can look for something that will offer more variety and more challenge. Some people will volunteer, some people will become active in local communities.
Some people might write a book, travel the world, or start their own side business without the worry that comes from being financial dependent on it. In other words, keep yourself active, keep challenging yourself to new things and throw yourself out there.Sometimes you may not feel like it especially if energy levels are starting to wane but it’s when you give it that it all comes collapsing around you.
How Stress Ages You
Stress is caused by a mild version of the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is the response that our bodies would have used in the wild in order to prep us for action. This is triggered by a flood of hormones and neurotransmitters, including the likes of dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. In response, our parasympathetic nervous system preps us for battle by making our brain more focused and triggering various physiological changes in our bodies, such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Increased blood viscosity (so that our blood would clot in response to an injury)
- Muscle contractions
- Decreased digestion
- Suppressed immune system
The immune system and digestion are suppressed so that more blood and more resources can be directed to the brain and to the muscles. This is a little like Captain Kirk sending all power to thrusters, even if it means divert-ing it away from the medical bay! The context this was designed to be used in would always be short and sharp – it would be a sudden release of adrenaline that would allow us to get away from a predator or a forest fire.
But today, stressors tend to last much longer and take the form of work-place pressure, debt, relationship problems etc. When you go for these long periods with continuous stress, the body takes a beating: blood pres-sure is raised (because it is thicker and the heart rate is increased), we don’t absorb all the nutrients in our food (due to that suppressed digestion) and we become much more prone to illness.
Just as not getting enough nutrients in the diet can lead to cumulative damage that becomes serious over time, so too can continuous chronic stress. This also leads to an increase in oxidative damage to the cells and can even turn you grey! Even just frowning more may be one of the fastest ways to give yourself more wrinkles along the top of your head right where they don’t look so great!
Stress even makes you grind your teeth, making you more inclined to lose them later on. And stress can cause psychological damage that might end up culminating in more serious damage over time.Want proof? Just take a look at any president or prime minister and you’ll see that they went grey very shortly after being elected!
Now it’s time to get a little more scientific and look at some of the real damage that stress may be able to cause.
A telomere is essentially a section of ‘empty’ DNA that the body doesn’t need that is found at the end of your genes. Sometimes this is described as being like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces designed to stop the shoelaces from fraying. What’s really going on, it that every time your cells divide and reproduce via mitosis, they end up losing a little bit of information from the ends of the DNA.
Because telomeres are unneeded, they act like a ‘buffer’. They are the first things to go and it doesn’t matter because they don’t contain any information. But after a while, you’ll find your telomeres ‘run out’ and that’s when your actual DNA starts to be degraded.
Guess what? Studies show that the more stressed you are, the shorter the telomeres become. And this is also true when you’re suffering from depression. If you are very stressed at work, you will age faster. And if you feel lonely, isolated and frustrated in an old-people’s home, you’ll feel stressed too. The good news? As you become less stressed, you can actually end up re-storing and rejuvenating your telomeres to some extent.