STRESS AND LONGEVITY: THE ROLE OF TELOMERES
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
The last two years have been difficult for all of us: we have been forced to stay at home for a long time – hoping to stem the virus as much as possible – and we have often found ourselves feeling anxious about the situation we were experiencing. There was the fear of getting sick or infecting others, together with forced cohabitation, smart working, isolation and much more.
Therefore, it can be said with certainty that it was a period of high stress.
STRESS SHORTENS LIFE
Yes, stress is more harmful than we think. This was discovered in 2004, when the Biologist Elizabeth Blackburn (Nobel Prize for Medicine) and the Psychologist Elissa Epel demonstrated, for the first time in history, that the inability to manage stress effectively accelerates the cellular aging process (by at least 9 years), putting the organism at risk for cardiovascular and immune diseases.
EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING
In the process of human evolution, stress has always played a fundamental role in survival. Let’s think, for example, about a predator that triggers a psychophysical condition in a man preparing, him for attack or escape. In this case, the activation of the organism is both mental – as the man must quickly choose how to react in the face of danger – and physical, with an increase in heart rate and blood flow to the muscles in order to allow greater concentration.
In short: stress is good, but not all types of stress are useful to humans.
Hans Selye, an Austrian doctor who lived in the 20th Century, defined stress as ‘the tension generated by the forces which an object is subjected to’. He used this term to indicate the response of the body to a negative stimulus called ‘stressor’. Later, Selye himself identified a distinction between two types of stress:
Eustress (or positive stress); it allows the organism to activate the physical and mental energies necessary to cope with difficulties;
Distress (or negative stress); it is instead a psycho-physical malaise that persists over time, even in the absence of stressful stimuli.
Therefore, Eustress helps human beings to cope with difficulties, while Distress puts them in a condition of fatigue and it is not useful in the ‘action-reaction’ process.
THE ROLE OF TELOMERES
The research group of Blackburn and Epel has shown that our mind and our DNA ‘dialogue’ in a continuous and complex way. In particular, they found out that a poor effectiveness in stress management affects some specific structures called telomeres, made up of DNA and whose task is to protect the chromosomes where the genetic material is preserved.
The greater the length of the telomeres, the higher the protection from aging processes. Telomeres represent a sort of ‘cellular aging indicators’, like organic clocks that define the actual biological age of living beings.
But how can we reduce the degradation of telomeres?
In a previous article we wrote «in a world where everything is faster and faster, ‘slow living’ represents a real act of love for oneself».
We have seen together how slowing down the rhythm of one's life helps reduce the levels of stress we are subjected to on a daily basis. The concept of Slow Living has a fundamental role in this, because it allows us to focus on the needs of our body, following our rhythms and always remaining focused on the pursuit of our personal psycho-physical well-being.
This concept is also associated with the one of Slow Food, which contrasts with the emergence of increasingly frequent Fast Foods and incorrect diets, not focused on the person, but on a necessity.
Only one solution is possible to counteract stress: slow down and live better.
There are many ways for a more balanced life and it is up to each of us to find our own. Take your time. Palazzo Fiuggi offers many possibilities to find yourself in nature and in the peace of tranquility.