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The Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) is dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of Canadians by empowering individuals with scientifically grounded information on the effects of stress on the brain and body.
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Genetics of aging

In biology, aging is the accumulation of wear and tear that cells experience as they get older. This has much to do with the genetic code that slowly degrades with time as each cell reproduces itself a limited number of times. Like a photocopy that has been reproduced too many times, the letters and words become illegible and errors in the message are more likely to occur.

Chromosomes represent inherited composites that hold all our genetic baggage. At the tip of chromosomes are neat proteins nicely wrapped to keep chromosomes from unraveling called telomeres. Each time a cell reproduces itself, the telomeres become just a little bit weaker. The more this happens, the more chances there are that things might go wrong for the cell or that it will simply get tired and overworked. This is one definition of aging. What is troubling is that stress can accelerate cellular aging by degrading telomeres.

Some scientist even argue that chronic stress can take away considerable years off your lifespan. The weaker telomeres become, the less functional the cell is. This is one way stress can “gets under our skin” to cause health problems.

Is there anything that can be done?

Yes! Genetics research has become so sophisticated that the benefits of, say, exercise programs of even psychological interventions, can be considered beneficial by measuring telomeres. More specifically, these kinds of programs and interventions have been found to actually increase the length of telomeres. That is right, making healthy and sane choices can actually positively alter the package that protects our genetic code.

The reason why this is a big deal is because if there were ways to slow down the aging of telomeres, it would essentially mean longer, more functional lives for many people. While telomeres are not the fountain of youth, they are key players in a process that affects us all. One way of doing this is to manage your stress levels and promote healthy living by finding unique and individualized ways to coping with life’s challenges.