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Anxiety may accelerate aging process

July 13, 2012

Phobic anxiety affects as many as 60 percent of American adults, and results of a new study suggest it could be speeding up the aging process. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital found middle-aged and senior women with anxiety tend to age more quickly than those who are more stress-free.

To analyze the effect of anxiety, researchers looked at the blood samples of more than more than 5,200 women between 42 and 69. Specifically, they were interested in telomere length, which is a biomarker believed to indicate cellular aging.  Then the team compared telomere length to the participants' self-reported anxiety and stress levels and found women who had phobic anxiety had the telomere length of someone six years older than them.

"Many people wonder about whether - and how - stress can make us age faster," said Dr. Olivia Okereke, the study's author. "So, this study is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress - phobic anxiety - and a plausible mechanism for premature aging."

Shortened telomeres have been connected to a number of different health ailments. In particular, scientists have linked them to a greater risk of conditions ranging from Alzheimer's to heart disease, according to AARP.

Stress is not the only factor that could accelerate the aging process. Researchers have also found that there are substantial ties between feelings of loneliness and the enjoyment of senior living. Specifically, they found that being lonely was tied to a 40 percent increase in the speed of motor decline in older adults. Furthermore, the motor decline was tied to a 50 percent increase in the risk of death.