A good news/bad news situation can be determined from a new scientific study: Yes, stress can literally age you prematurely, but — here’s the silver lining — its effects aren’t permanent.
That’s the takeaway from researchers out of Duke University School of Medicine, whose results were just published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
“We report that biological age is fluid and exhibits rapid changes in both directions,” the scientists conclude, noting biological aging in cells has been noticed in response to big-time stressors, like major surgery, pregnancy or severe COVID-19.
However, luckily for humans — and the mice the researchers used as test subjects — stressed cells can yo-yo back to their actual age.
At the center of this was the researchers’ discovery that how many candles you have on your birthday cake isn’t indicative of how “old” you are.
“It is now clear that biological age is not indelibly linked to chronological age,” the researchers say, noting everything from a healthy or poor lifestyle to exposure to stress, or even chemicals, can alter your actual age down or up.
So it’s not a matter of “you’re only as old as you feel,” but more of, “you’re only as old as your cells are.”
So, while a stress-filled life can certainly end yours prematurely, it’s not the stress itself: It’s the aging of your cells that it causes.
Conversely, the researchers say studying exactly how cells are able to bounce back from stress — and de-age — may help them determine how to extend our healthy lives.