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There has been a longstanding belief that chronic stress causes people to appear older, but most of the evidence to support this fact has been anecdotal (based upon people's perceptions and observations) rather than scientifically validated. However, a small but significant study in 2004 showed the first link between chronic stress and aging. This study showed that telomeres (structures at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with aging) also shorten prematurely in people experiencing long-term psychological stress, in effect, prematurely "aging" the cells. Since then, subsequent studies have confirmed the finding that shortened telomeres are associated with psychological stress.
While these results support a link between stress and cellular aging, the exact relationship of stress on aging is complex and isn't yet fully understood. However, stress certainly can have negative effects on physical and emotional health. Anyone concerned about developing wrinkles or other signs of aging would certainly be advised to practice a healthy lifestyle, which would include keeping stress levels under control.
Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine