Can chronic stress influence how we age?

Cumulative stress speeds up the ageing process in young and middle-aged adults, says study.

We often judge how well we are ageing by comparing ourselves with those born around the same time. But, we also have a biological age which is different for us all.

Scientists measure our biological age by looking at biochemical changes in our genes. Also known as epigenetic clocks, DNA changes occur naturally and indicate life span and health more accurately than making predictions based on actual age.

Modern life seems to be synonymous with stress having consequences for our long-term health, which is why a team from Yale University investigated the effects of chronic stress on the rate of biological ageing. They also explored whether the speed of biological ageing could be slowed down.

For the study over 400 men and women aged 19-50 completed numerous stress and psychological questionnaires. In addition, blood tests determined age-related DNA changes and other health markers associated with chronic illness.

The results published in the journal Transactional Psychiatry found chronic stress was associated with increased ageing and other physiological changes. However, the people with higher emotional regulation and self-control buffered the impact of stress on ageing and health markers such as insulin resistance.

You could say that other factors influenced the findings however the results remained even after accounting for sex, race, BMI, smoking, alcohol use, income, mental state and education.

“These results support the popular notion that stress makes us age faster,” said Zachary Harvanek one of the authors in a press statement, “but they also suggest a promising way to possibly minimize these adverse consequences of stress through strengthening emotion regulation and self-control.”

“In other words, the more psychologically resilient the subject, the higher the likelihood they would live a longer and healthier life”, Harvanek said.


Harvanek, Z.M., Fogelman, N., Xu, K. et al. Psychological and biological resilience modulates the effects of stress on epigenetic aging. Transl Psychiatry 11, 601 (2021).

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