Stress ages the immune system

Stress ages the immune system

Troubles with your boss? Worried about your finances? Anxious about a deadline? All of these everyday worries accelerate the aging of your immune system and boost your risk of illness.

As people age, their immune systems naturally decline, their immune profiles weaken and their worn-out white blood cells outnumber fresh white blood cells. This increases an individual’s risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and pneumonia while also reducing vaccine efficacy.

Researchers at the University of Southern California found people with higher stress scores had older immune profiles — meaning their immune systems had fewer beneficial T cells and higher percentages of worn-out white blood cells. When these stress-aged immune systems try to fend off illness, it’s like a scrawny kid facing a giant bully.

Eliminating all stress may be impossible, but the researchers suggest an alternative: improving diet and exercise habits. People with poorer habits tend to experience more stress, which explains their accelerated immune system aging.

Another immune system-aging factor is cytomegalovirus [sai-tow-meh-guh-low-vie-ruhs], a common, asymptomatic virus that is often dormant but can flare up during high-stress scenarios, like the virus that causes shingles or cold sores. The researchers suggest widespread CMV vaccination could someday be a way to reduce the immune system damage from stress.

So, the next time you’re too worried to sleep, use the time to make mental plans to exercise — even just a little — and make a grocery list that will help you eat better. To have a robust immune system, you’ve got to stress less and stay youthful.

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