Stress accounts for between up to 80 percent of visits to primary care doctors. Alas, chronic stress is associated with accelerated biological aging, in addition to inflammation and oxidative stress. These latter processes can result in damage to your genes and cells, with low-grade inflammation known as “inflammaging.” Inflaming can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stress, depression, and impairment of your immune system. Sounds bad, no? So what can you do to reduce chronic low-grade stress? Recent data has looked at the effects of various interventions on blood levels of stress indicators, including cortisol and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps with brain plasticity and development, with low levels associated with anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s dementia.
In an intriguing exploratory study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers showed a slowing of cellular aging associated with 12 weeks of yoga. The participants did 90 minutes of yoga (with physical postures, breathing, and meditation) for five days a week. Yoga significantly decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and raised levels of BDNF.
Other studies have also found yoga lowers harmful pro-inflammatory markers in the blood, while raising BDNF levels as much as by a factor of 3. With this, many participants have improvement in depression, anxiety, and have fewer physical symptoms. You may wish to consider yoga, meditation, or tai chi as means of lowering chronic stress. Even a few minutes per day may help. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.