This Is Your Body on Stress
The Early-Aging Effect
That toll can make your body age more quickly than it should. Increasingly, medical researchers are viewing our ability to cope with stress as one of the most important factors for predicting how well the heart, brain, and other organs withstand wear and tear.
There's telling evidence of how this process works from the Nun Study, ongoing research from the University of Kentucky, in Lexington, that has followed the lives of 678 nuns from the School Sisters of Notre Dame in seven religious communities across the United States. Since the study started, in 1990, nuns who have demonstrated optimism, a positive attitude, adaptability, and a sense of humor all have aged better than nuns without those personality traits. The women have led remarkably similar lives -- eating the same foods, living in the same places, and interacting with the same people. Researchers say the more positive nuns may have developed more effective coping strategies that stressed their bodies less, allowing them to lead more energetic lives -- and to live more than 10 years longer.
But just because you're feeling stressed out now doesn't mean you're destined for premature aging. Understanding the stress effect gives you more opportunities to manage it before it does any real harm. And because stress affects so much of the body, there's a big payoff once you learn how to deal with it.