Can stress make you biologically age?

Stress is pretty bad for your health in a lot of ways.

Can stress make you biologically age?
Source: Pexels/Kat Smith

Stress is pretty bad for your health in a lot of ways. If you experience it long-term, this is especially true. It's been associated with health risks like hypertension, heart attack or stroke and affects circulatory inflammation, metabolism, mental health and more.

We're not trying to stress you out over your stress, but there's not much good news about it. And, chances are, you sort of know this already.

Recently, a new study came out about how stress affects biological age. In the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers showed how stress could increase the biological age of humans and mice. Chronological age and biological age are two different things when it comes to how our bodies change over time. So, for example, if you've led a really healthy life as a 50-year-old man (chronological age), you might just have the body functions of a 40-year-old (biological age) and vice versa.

According to the study, "In the most fundamental sense, our data reveal the dynamic nature of biological age: stress can trigger a rapid increase in biological age, which can be reversed."

So, scientists have confirmed that stress can have an aging effect. But, the study also shows that age recovery is possible via a bit of TLC.

"Previous reports have hinted at the possibility of short-term fluctuations in biological age, but the question of whether such changes are reversible has, until now, remained unexplored. Critically, the triggers of such changes were also unknown," said co-senior study author James White of Duke University School of Medicine.

After experiencing a stressful or traumatic event, our bodies may jump forward in biological age, with a 40-year-old body functioning more like a 45 or 50-year-old one. But these effects don't have to be permanent. Within days or weeks of that stressful time ending, the body can be restored back to its former biological age with rest and recovery practices like exercise, meditation, eating right and reducing alcohol consumption.

The study doesn't really address long-term stress and biological age changes and recovery, but this is a good start to understanding how our bodies fluctuate in functioning when we're going through really stressful times, like COVID and getting pregnant.

"A clear pattern that emerged over the course of our studies is that exposure to stress increased biological age," the report said. "When the stress was relieved, biological age could be fully or partially restored."