Unhappiness accelerates aging: study

Man looking sadly out of a window.
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Have you ever felt that a stressful situation took time off your life? Well, you might be right.

According to a study published Tuesday in the Aging journal, “aging is not only determined by physical factors but also, to a certain degree, affected by mental state and social status.”

Study authors developed what they call a “deep learning aging clock,” utilizing blood test data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), a nationwide collection of data from the Chinese population who are 45 years old and older. The study includes information on respondents’ social and economic statuses, health history, biometrics, and blood panels.

Researchers described aging clocks as “statistical models that enable measurements of biological age as opposed to chronological age.” Chronological age is determined by date of birth and biological age is determined by the intensity of the aging process on an individual.

This process can be impacted by genetics, life choices, and the environment.

“We used the aging clock to demonstrate the connection between the physical and psychological aspects of aging,” said the researchers.
They found that psychological factors – such as feeling unhappy or being lonely – can add up to 1.65 years to one’s biological age “the aggregate effect exceeds the effects of biological sex, living area, marital status, and smoking status.”

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that psychological factors should not be ignored when conducting aging studies. They believe that the impact of psychological factors has been understudied thus far.

“In this article, we demonstrate that mental and physical health are interlinked and both can be described by a single aging clock trained on blood test data,” said the study. In the future, the study authors plan to validate their approach with other public data sets, such as the UK Biobank.
However, they noted that “exact wordings for the psychological assessment in CHARLS make the model less compatible with Western datasets.”

In the U.S., researchers published a study linking stress to graying hair in a 2020 volume of the Nature journal, said the National Institutes of Health.

According to the recent Chinese study, demographic factors had a similar magnitude of impact compared to psychological factors.

Marital status had the greatest effect on aging, with married people predicted to be 0.6 years younger than the people who never married and widowed participants predicted to be 0.3 years older than non-widowed participants. Those living in rural areas were also predicted to be 0.4 years older than those living in urban areas.

Rural aging could be connected to “lower socio-economic status, poorer social services, and lower access to quality medical services,” per the study.

“Altogether, we have demonstrated that the pace of aging is significantly associated with psychological features,” said the researchers. They added that “promoting mental health may be considered a potential anti-aging intervention,” and that “study findings further support the necessity of companionship and a psychologically pleasant environment for healthy longevity.”

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