It’s no surprise that smoking and drug abuse are two examples of behaviors that speed up the aging process. Certain illnesses do the same.
Now, new research has uncovered a largely ignored aspect of health that, according to scientists, can speed up aging even more dramatically than serious diseases, drug abuse and smoking.
Here’s how to know if you’re at risk…
Before you can assess this new, oft-forgotten factor you must know more about your personal biological age…
Biological age refers to underlying aging processes at the biological level. According to scientists you should pay close attention because your biological age can tell you more about how well you’re aging than your age since birth.
Determining Your Biological Age
Of course, the rate at which you age depends on various factors such as genetics, lifestyle choices, behavioral factors, and how you interact with the environment.
Studies show that if your biological age is greater than your chronological age, it increases vulnerability to infections and various diseases and is also linked to a higher risk of dying prematurely. On the flip side, a biological age that’s lower than your chronological age is linked to better health and a longer life.
To determine biological age, aging clocks have been developed that assess various markers in the body. The statistical models used to create the clocks indicate how well our organs are functioning and predict how many years we have left on the clock, i.e., when we’re likely to die.
Psychological Health is Often Overlooked
Now, researchers at Stanford University and institutions in China are adding a new factor to the mix. They’ve created a new artificial intelligence-based, deep learning aging clock that’s uncovered the importance of an underappreciated factor – psychological health.
“The impact of psychology on biological age,” they wrote in their paper, published in the journal Aging in September, “is a painfully understudied subject.”
The team built their new clock from data collected from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), which includes 4,846 mostly middle aged and older adults.
Their model used not only sixteen biomarkers from the blood such as cholesterol and glucose levels, but eight other variables including blood pressure, heart rate, waist circumference and measures of lung and kidney function.
They first tested the model to ensure it could predict the chronological age of the participants with a good degree of accuracy.
The next step was to validate it. To do so they applied it to a group of 2,617 Chinese adults with aging-associated diseases. The clock successfully detected accelerated aging by one to two years in people with heart, liver, and lung conditions.
The most interesting finding was that mental health and psychological well-being influences the pace of aging.
Feeling Miserable Shortens Life
The research team explained, writing, “[W]e demonstrate that mental and physical health are interlinked…We also demonstrate that the detrimental impact of low psychological well-being is of the same magnitude as serious diseases and smoking.”
While smoking increased aging by 1.25 years, a range of psychological factors such as feeling unhappy, fearful, lonely, or depressed added up to 1.65 years to biological age.
They concluded that “promoting mental health may be considered a potential anti-aging intervention.”
One of the study authors, Fedor Galkin, said, “Taking care of your psychological health is the greatest contributor that you can have to slowing down your pace of aging. Your body and soul are connected – this is our main message.”
Another member of the team, Professor Helene Fung, added that for decades the focus has been on biological health and having medical checkups, but “our findings suggest that working on psychological factors, such as maintaining a positive mood, can be equally important.”
I couldn’t agree more. That’s why my team and I write a lot about stress management. One of the best ways to manage stress is by making healthy lifestyle choices. For example, make an effort to get regular exercise, eat a healthy, whole-food diet, and engage with others socially on a regular basis. Getting a good night’s sleep is also critical. And commit to a regular spiritual practice which has also proven beneficial, whether that’s prayer, meditation, or something else.