Social Stress Linked to Hastened Immune Aging

In every person’s life, there are sources of stress that can contribute to physical and emotional harm if left unchecked.  Work, family responsibilities, finances, and health are just a few of the many issues that can create stress, and a new study has found that chronic exposure to social stress is associated with accelerated aging of the immune system. 

According to a recent National Institute on Aging Research Highlights report, researchers from UCLA found that among more than 5,500 Americans over the age of 50, exposure to social stress such as discrimination, trauma, unemployment, and other life events had an effect on white blood cells and their ability to fight off new infections.  Fewer T lymphocytes (T cells) demonstrated the ability to adapt – and a greater proportion of T cells were only able to fight off previously encountered infections.   Even after controlling for education, smoking, drinking, body mass index, race, or ethnicity, the study findings that social stress can accelerate immune aging held true. 

Scientists did, however, find that lifestyle factors including diet and exercise habits weakened the connection between stress and accelerated immune aging.  Researchers suggest that getting more exercise and eating a healthier diet could help dampen the effects of social stress on the body’s immune response.  Accelerated immune system aging is linked with a greater risk for chronic disease, a weakened response to infection, a higher risk for pneumonia, diminished efficacy of vaccines, and organ system aging. 

We can’t always avoid stressful circumstances, but managing stress with positive actions like getting regular exercise, spending time in nature, eating a nutritious diet, and practicing meditation or another calming activity can help minimize the damage chronic stress places on the body, leading to cellular aging.   Learn more about at-home activities to help reduce stress by following this link to The American Institute of Stress website.