Even without the medical evidence in hand, most people know that stress and depression are often tied in with looking older earlier in life. In fact we have often seen how a depressed or grieving person may seem to have aged years within just a few months. A recent study has taken it a step further and observed that girls who are considered to be at high risk of depression due to their family history may age faster than girls without the same family history risk.
However, this is not based on subjective measurements of aging like the extent of wrinkles or graying hair. The study focused on the length of telomeres which are structures at the end of chromosomes that shorten as we age. It was found that girls who were at a high risk of depression due to their family history had shorter telomeres. The participants were in the 10 to 14 year age group. The shorter telomere lengths were the equivalent to 6 years of biological aging in adults.
Stress and Telomere Lengths
The telomere lengths and family history were not considered in isolation. The participants were also subjected to stress tests and their cortisol levels were measured before and after the tests. Cortisol is one of the hormones secreted by the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. It is well known as one of the stress hormones since it is secreted at higher levels during prolonged periods of physical and psychological stress. The link between stress and depression is well established.
What is unclear at this point is whether the shorter telomere lengths come first or if stress and depression precede it. It may be too early to make assumptions about these findings. Long term monitoring is necessary to determine whether the current findings early in life correlates with depression later on or even with shorter lifespans. Nevertheless it has raised some interesting questions about what measures can be taken early in life even before a person is clinically diagnosed with depression.
The Exercise Component
The prevalence of depression and the serious consequences of untreated depression is now well known. Irrespective of possible genetic predisposition to depression, there are still a host of psychosocial factors that are known to contribute to it. Tackling these issues as early as possible could possibly reduce the incidence of depression and a host of measures may be considered. One of these is exercise. A regular exercise regimen may not only help in prevention but can also reduce the severity of pre-existing depression.
The same benefits of exercise are known when it comes to psychological stress. It is also interesting to note that exercise may help slow telomere shortening. So not only could exercise help with preventing depression and managing stress but it may also help with slowing natural aging. Exercise may not be the golden bullet or cure all. However, it is seems to play an important role and may in fact determine whether a person lives a long and happy life especially when there are risk factors for depression.