Stress May Be Affecting Your Immune Age, According To A New Study — Here's What That Means
Perhaps one of the most unfortunate side effects of the rise-and-grind lifestyle that Americans have collectively subscribed themselves to is the overwhelming stress that accompanies it. Of course it's easier said than done to simply stop being stressed, but new studies have revealed that everyday strain actually has the capacity to age the immune system, effectively affecting your immune resilience.
The study, conducted by the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), displays the far-reaching effects that stress can have on the body. While we already knew that anxious feelings may manifest in your gut, we now know this can extend to other health concerns as well.
Your age naturally has an impact on your immune function and overall well-being, but this study further depicts how stress may expedite the age of your immune system. Immunosenescence is a natural occurrence as you age that explains the expected decline of your immune system, but the authors of this study used their understanding of the negative impacts of stress to explain this phenomenon in younger people.
In the study of 5,744 adults over 50, researchers explored the degrees of stress that participants were exposed to throughout their lives, specifically taking into account:
- Stressful life events
- Long-standing stress
- Everyday discrimination
- Lifetime discrimination
- Life trauma
Using a questionnaire to tally up "stress scores," the study found that those participants with higher scores also had older "immune profiles," particularly informed by T-cell (T lymphocyte) results.
No study is perfect, and the authors are transparent that the research has been conducted solely on "community dwelling older adults in the United States." In order to more broadly determine the impact of stress on immunity, it would be useful to expand the study outside of the U.S.
The study is also limited in that reporting on stressful life events for participants ended in 2012, missing some pretty major events that occurred after that time, which may have further informed the results. The type of stress is also limited to five categories, and the authors agree that adding "job stress" and other categories into later studies may be beneficial.
How you can lower your stress levels & support immune health.
Building an arsenal of handy stress-busting habits and tools can help you to stay healthy even as you age, and from supplements to breathing exercises there's no shortage of options for keeping your immunity in check as well. Here are some of our go-to immune-supporting tips:
Take a targeted supplement.
Just as the food you eat can support a healthy body, so, too, can a high-quality supplement, which is why we recommend making both a part of your daily habits. To keep you feeling your best, mbg's immune support+ is a great option for promoting resilience in the body and creating immune balance.*
In this cutting-edge formula: Quercetin phytosome and beta-glucans lead the targeted immune support, while vitamins C and D and the mineral zinc deliver foundational immunity essentials; taking this supplement daily (especially when combined with a balanced lifestyle and stress-managing tools) can help support your body's natural defenses.*
Harness the power of breathwork.
When you're stressed it's likely that your breathing patterns are going to fall out of whack, making it easier to become even more stressed. Try following the 4-7-8 breathing technique to get things back in check. It's as simple as inhaling for four seconds, holding for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds.
Get plenty of sleep.
If you're living off the mantra "Sleep is for the weak," you may be setting yourself up for failure, as getting plenty of rest is essential for modulating stress levels, immune function, and staying healthy. "The No. 1 lifestyle habit I recommend is getting sufficient deep, restorative sleep," Ella Davar, R.D., CDN, previously told mbg. Yes, getting your eight hours really is that important.
Exercise plays a vital function in a healthy lifestyle, helping to both ease stress and improve immunity. Gentle and restorative exercises such as yoga, Pilates, and walking are all great options, and a 2019 review in the Journal of Sport and Health Science reveals that exercise really can improve our immune response1.
If ever there was incentive to regulate stress in your younger years, it's the opportunity to support your immunity and keeping you feeling great as you age. Stress can wreak havoc on your body, and while you cannot control many things that happen in your life, you do have control over how you cope with it.
Integrating immune-boosting hacks and stress-soothing tactics into some of your busier days is a great way to age gracefully—and who doesn't want that?
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.