Conditions Linked to Accelerated Aging

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, and as awareness and understanding of mental health grow, more healthcare providers are regularly screening for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.  May also happens to be Older Americans Month, and in addition to highlighting the value of vaccines, physical activity and a healthy diet to promote healthy aging, mental health and social interaction are increasingly understood as key components of well-being for older adults. 

If the pandemic taught us anything, it was the crucial importance of regular social interaction for good mental health, a sense of belonging, connection and value.  Older adults are often socially isolated if they have mobility or other health problems that prevent them from leaving home or assisted living.  Seniors who have lost a spouse, or who live away from close family and friends, are at risk of becoming isolated or suffering from depression.  

We know more today just how connected mental well-being is with our physical health, and new research shows that chronic stress and mental health conditions can take a significant toll on the body.  According to a recent Everyday Health Emotional Health blog, major depressive disorder (MDD) can increase the risk for heart disease, and new research demonstrates that people with a long history of mental health conditions can experience accelerated biological aging that makes their bodies appear older than their chronological age. 

Researchers found that people with a history of mental disorders have biomarkers similar to people older than their actual numerical age.  The study assessed biological age by analyzing data on 168 blood markers from nearly 111,000 individuals in the UK Biobank, comparing participants with or without mental health conditions including mood and anxiety disorders.  On average, individuals with a history of mental health disorders showed a biological age older than their chronological age.  

The root cause of accelerated aging is debatable, but researchers suggest that people with mental health conditions may experience greater stress, and engage in lifestyle habits that worsen overall health – including eating a poorer-quality diet, substance use, or being more sedentary.   Individuals with mental health conditions can help prevent accelerated aging by seeking mental health treatment and practicing healthy lifestyle habits.  Advocating for holistic health care, and practicing self-care can also help support good mental, physical and emotional well-being.