Science doesn't need to tell you that you're more stressed than your parents. You can feel it and, worse yet, you can see it in the mirror too. But new science has found that you can actually turn back the clock and reverse the powerful early onset aging effects of stress on your body and health.
The secret? Eat right, exercise, meditate, sleep more, and surround yourself with loved ones. Yes, you’ve heard this before, but now a study published in the October issue of The Lancet Oncology confirms that beyond helping you look and feel younger, these habits may add at least 10 years to your life in a matter of months.
“This study is the first of it's kind that scientifically proves you can reverse aging at a cellular level through lifestyle changes,” says lead researcher Dean Ornish, M.D., author of The Spectrum. Ornish and his team looked at the telomeres—the caps at the end of chromosomes (picture the plastic ends of shoelaces) that keeps DNA strands from unraveling—in men who had been diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer. With age, these caps become shorter, which in turn increases the risk of premature death from a wide variety of conditions including heart disease, breast cancer, and diabetes. Chronic stress also shortens them and, ultimately, your life from nine to 17 years.
RELATED: 10 Everyday Things That Age You
With that in mind, Ornish set out to stop or reverse the damage to telomeres by telling the men in the study to eat a diet high in plant foods, exercise at least 30 minutes six days a week, practice yoga or mediation, and attend support groups. By the end of the three-month study, the men had increased their telomeres by 10 percent. (Ornish believes the same results would have been true for female subjects as well.) In the process, Ornish realized people have more control over their stress than they think.
“You need to understand how powerful you are. It's not about finding new stress-relieving techniques but rather about putting the existing ones into practice,” says Ornish, who created a Heart Disease Reversal Program to teach people how to adopt smart diet and positive lifestyle changes. The 12-week bootcamp-like program opened to the public at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City this October.
But you don’t need 12 weeks. You can start reversing cell damage within hours of making small tweaks, such as taking up yoga, eating whole foods, and especially improving your social life (not to be confused with online social network), Ornish says. He found that spending time with family, friends, and loved ones may be the most important way to buffer stress. “A supportive community can help reframe the reason for making changes. You're not doing it for fear of dying, which is not sustainable, but rather for the joy of living, which is,” he says.