When my grandfather was 50, he looked like 80, according to my mother. She attributed that to the tremendous stress he’d had in his life. When my dad was 50 (in 1961), he looked 40. He played tennis regularly, ate healthy and didn’t have a lot of stress. He always said “Worry ages you and isn’t worth the time and energy, so why worry?” (Unless it was about me, his adventurous “hippie” daughter of the 60s.)
Perhaps you’ve noticed that most 50-year-olds are looking exceptionally well these days. You’ve heard that 50 is the new 30, right? The fact is, people overall are healthier and living longer than ever due to better health care. More people are exercising and eating right, although the obesity epidemic tells us there’s still a long ways to go. A great deal has been learned over the last century about living longer and healthier and it seems every time you turn around there’s some new recommendation about how you can add years to your life. But there is one factor that can add years to life that many of us today choose to ignore: managing stress.
Up Next – The Stress Factor
The Stress Factor
It’s widely understood that reducing stress can help improve physical, mental and emotional well-being. But it can also result in a longer life, longevity expert Dr. Michael Roizen noted in a CBS Early Show segment about aging on the CBS Web site.
“About 70 percent of how long and well we live are our choices and 30 percent are our genes,” said Roizen, co-author of the best seller, You Staying Young. “So you can do a whole bunch of things now. The most important factor is your management of stress. That is, stress is the greatest ager. It affects every one of our aging areas and you get to control it by your response.”
Controlling stress levels has been a major focus for more than 20 years at the Institute of HeartMath, whose director of research, Rollin McCraty, recently had this to say about its aging effects. “Research has recently found a direct link between stress and shorter cell life,” McCraty said, “but stress also impacts how gracefully we age and can rob us of a high quality of life throughout the lifespan by depleting our cognitive functions, resilience and happiness.”
Coming Up – Factoids
- An estimated 75% to 90% of visits to primary-care physicians are for stress-related complaints.
- A Harvard study showed individuals living in a state of high anxiety were four and a half times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than non-anxious individuals.
Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Integrative Medicine recommends heart rate variability feedback to reduce stress. In a May 22, 2012 New York Times article “The Doctor’s Remedy: Biofeedback for Stress” he says that pressing your thumb to sensors on the devices allows them to take your pulse and measure changes in your heart rate. The devices then use audible cues, flashing lights and graphics to guide you to breathe in a way that has a calming effect.
Dr. Rosen prefers using the emWave brand of stress reducing feedback devices, which he says helps his nervous patients relax before operations. “I teach them really simple little breathing techniques, and we work on synchronizing their breathing with their heartbeat,” he said. “When they see the green light show up on the meter, that shows them that they’re doing it effectively. And when they need work, it’s at red. You can teach them how to control their breathing in a way that positively affects their heart rate variability. And not only do they feel more relaxed, but the body’s physiology changes. We can measure hormone levels that show that the body is in a less stressed state.” (The article notes that Dr. Rosen, has no financial or personal ties to the company that sells the device, Heart Math.)
Next – Biofeedback Devices
A number of studies have found evidence that simple biofeedback devices can help reduce stress in hospital settings. In a study at the Royal Free Hospital in London, researchers tested the effects of an emWave computer biofeedback game on 40 patients with irritable bowel syndrome, a stress-related disorder. They found that it helped teach relaxation “rapidly and effectively,” and reduced some symptoms.
HeartMath has conducted numerous scientifically controlled studies employing heart-rate- variability analyses with HeartMath techniques to manage the stress response and increase the positive emotions that reduce stress, such as appreciation, caring and love (which turns the light green on the emWave, as Dr. Rosen said.) The studies showed significant benefits: Â increased heart rate variability coherence and thus reduced stress levels; increased energy; lower levels of worry, anxiety, anger and other negative emotions, and sharpened cognitive functions, all of which ultimately help people live healthier lives. Healthier lives typically mean happier lives, which many experts also cite as a contributor to longevity.
As we celebrate fathers everywhere on Father’s Day, may all their children marvel at and strive to achieve their great capacity for less stress living!
Next week I’ll share more about what experts are now saying are the secrets of living longer, healthier lives.