Stress Makes You — Younger?

It can, if you see it as a challenge and not a threat, according to provocative new advice

by Carleen Wild | Updated 26 Jan 2017 at 7:27 AM

Time to rethink how you’re handling all the stress in your life — it could change your health. And if you’re lucky, it may also restore some of your youthful glow.

That advice comes from a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist and a health psychologist, who are also the authors of “The Telomere Effect,” in a recent health series for the Daily Mail.

The culprit when it comes to aging, according to Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel, both from the University of California, San Francisco, is shortened telomeres — or the end of your chromosomes — where your DNA lives. "Think of them as the plastic bits at the end of your shoelaces," the Daily Mail noted. "The longer your telomeres, the more they protect your DNA from 'fraying' and succumbing to disease."

Those who face adversity with a "Bring it on!" mentality have been shown to be healthier.

Blackburn and Epel recommend that people ditch the sugary drinks, take care of their mental health, avoid chronic stress, get regular exercise — and shift their attitude to stabilize the state of their telomeres, if not regrow them.

"Your telomeres are listening to your thoughts. Master your thoughts and you can slow down the aging clock," they say. "There are two ways in which you can respond to a stressful event: You can see it as a challenge or a threat."

Those who face adversity with a "Bring it on!" mentality have been shown to be healthier, receiving benefits almost similar to that of exercise.

"Healthy stress, called eustress by psychologists, is stress we feel when we are excited," said Courtney Cowan, a Boston-based health advocate, health coach, and fitness expert. "Eustress helps us move forward, and can be an incentive to achieve our goals, which can lead to happiness, satisfaction, and success. Our pulse may quicken, but there is no fear or threat accompanied by it."

Examples of healthy stress, she told LifeZette, might be a test, a roller coaster, a date, or deadline. The other type of good stress is acute stress — the type of stress we feel when surprises or threats need a response, because we're able to resolve them quickly.

More chronic stress — where you don't get a break or any recovery — can feel threatening. This is where people often freeze when they're challenged and "imagine bad outcomes to events that haven't even happened yet, a process that advances negative health outcomes," Blackburn and Epel wrote.

Related: 10 Kid-Tested Ways to Cut Stress

If you're not comfortable with meditation or too time-crunched to take in a yoga or tai chi class — Cowan said taking five minutes twice a day to stop, close your eyes, and take 10 deep, slow breaths can do wonders.

So can regular physical activity. "Exercise produces endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers, but can also improve sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Even a workout of low to moderate intensity makes you feel energized and healthy."

Routine aerobic exercise can also decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize our moods, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.

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