You’ve probably heard for years that stress is bad for your health, particularly your heart. But as it turns out, stress can also speed up the aging process, especially that of your immune system. A recent study published in the journal PNAS demonstrated how stress impacts white blood cells, leading to an exhausted immune system that cannot fight illness.
As the study’s authors explain, “We found that exposure to social stress was associated with T cell distributions indicative of accelerated immune aging.” And that accelerated aging opens the doors to a range of health problems from infectious diseases like flu or Covid, to chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer.
What you can do to protect your immune system. Obviously, the key to slowing the aging of your immune system is to prevent stress. But that’s easier said than done, for many of us. Understanding how your immune system works, and what you can do to support it, can go a long way toward combating the effects of stress. And some methods can help to reduce stress itself.
A gland called the thymus plays a role in producing T cells for your immune system. But as we get older, the thymus tends to become fatty and can no longer function at optimal levels. A healthy diet and exercise can reverse some of that aging process.
In fact, the researchers involved in the above-referenced study found that the correlation between stress and impaired immune systems was weaker when they controlled for diet and exercise.
Therefore, a healthy diet and exercise are the primary methods of both controlling stress and undoing damage to the thymus. Remember to follow nutritional guidelines, such as avoiding junk food and eating plenty of fresh produce, and go for a daily walk, bike ride, or swim.
Talk to your doctor to get more information on protecting your immune system, and for tips on general prevention of heart disease, cancer, and other conditions associated with an aging immune response.