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The Male Room

with Sheldon Marks, MD

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Presidential Stress and Aging

We have a new president whose image is everywhere. Over the next several years, we will all watch an amazing transformation as President Obama ages before our eyes. Based on observations of past Presidents, this change will be dramatic.

How does this happen? Does stress really cause rapid aging?

The answer is yes. Studies now confirm what we all knew to be true – prolonged stress does lead to premature and rapid aging of every cell in the body. Stress is the ultimate mind-body connection. When we perceive stress, our body responds rapidly with a multitude of changes. Changes intended to prepare us for the fight or flight response. Our heart rate goes up, our blood pressure increases, blood flow is increased to the brain, heart and muscles. Protective hormones, adrenaline and other chemicals begin surging through the bloodstream, nerves begin firing, all senses are brought to peak awareness. All this so we are in a state of extreme readiness to take on any threat. This was good hundreds and thousands years ago. What about today? Stress is inevitable. With so much stress from work and life that is not a threat to our survival, what does all this stress do to our bodies?

Long term, intense stress is not good for the body and accelerates aging. This is especially true if you don’t feel in control over the things that are causing stress. When the stresses do not resolve, your immune system is weakened. Stressed individuals become ill more frequently. Excessive stress actually shortens the life span of the cells throughout the body, so that every tissue and organ is ages rapidly. The body begins accumulating highly toxic levels of free radical particles that cause even more oxidative damage to cells and tissues. Damage that promotes aging. And because the stress response is so quick to come on and so slow to fade, it is likely that those in prolonged high stress occupations like President begin to age rapidly – an aging process we can see over time in their face, graying of hair, and behavior.

The answer? Do your best to avoid or reduce excessive and prolonged stress. If that is not possible, eat a healthy diet high in anti-oxidant rich foods, exercise regularly, sleep, and laugh. Most importantly, work to develop stress reduction behaviors and attitudes so that you can better deal with any stresses you experience.

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Posted by: Sheldon Marks, MD at 10:35 am

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