The holidays, as everyone knows, can be a stressful time. But did you know they could be aging you? Intuitively, I bet you did. We know that when we are less stressed, we actually look relaxed and a relaxed face is a younger looking face. It turns out that there is some science to all of this and that researchers have been getting under the skin of how stress and aging works. It all has to do with your telomeres.

I was put on to all of this by Lindsey, who pointed me to a new book called Stress Less: The New Science That Shows Women How To Rejuvenate The Body And The Mind by Thea Singer.

In Stress Less, Singer says that new research shows that chronic stress may lead to shortening of the telomeres, the DNA sequences at the end of a chromosomes that control cell aging. We have written about telomeres and have even turned up some antiaging cosmetic ingredients (for example Renovage and astragalus) that are supposed to stop your telomeres shortening. But if we are all stressed out whilst slathering on our expensive creams, then it could be a loosing battle. Apparently, stress speeds up the way our cells age by ten years or more.

Research that connected stress and telomeres isn’t all that new. In 2004, researchers looked at how stress impacts health by modulating the rate of cellular aging. They found evidence that psychological stress is “significantly” associated with higher oxidative stress, lower telomerase activity, and shorter telomere length. It is worth noting that they studied healthy premenopausal women – average age of 38.. Women with the highest levels of perceived stress have telomeres shorter on average by the equivalent of at least one decade of additional aging compared to low stress women.

Exercise is not only extremely successful in making us stress bunnies feel better, but it can act as a “stress-buffer” that prevents telomere shortening. Even a moderate amount of vigorous exercise appears to provide a critical amount of protection for the telomeres (source). So get our Beauty 360 section, for exercise inspiration.

Then I found some more recent research that suggests that a cheerful outlook on life is also important. If you are a glass half empty kind of person, then you could be shortening your telomeres and putting years on! This study was conducted on 6 healthy post-menopausal women.

It seems there is a link between interleukin-6 (an inflammatory cytokine) and telomeres shortening. And black thoughts, gloom and pessimism may be increasing levels of interleukin-6.

So find some space for yourself this holiday. Chill out, think happy thoughts, banish gloom (personally, this calls for a glass of wine). You’ll be all the younger for it. I know what my New Year’s mantra is going to be; reasons to be cheerful 1,2,3.