Is happiness the key to ageless living? Discover the intriguing relationship between mood and aging
(NaturalHealth365) Is a good mood the ultimate anti-aging product? Conversely, can depression promote aging as much as smoking does? New research from the University of Connecticut suggests yes to both!
And while this isn’t the first research of its kind to indicate a link between depression and accelerated aging, it does add to the growing pile of evidence that your mental health and outlook can have a tremendous impact on the quality and length of your life.
Older adults with depression age faster, according to scientists
According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA), having a positive mental outlook in life is correlated with better health markers, including lower blood pressure, less cardiovascular disease, and improved blood sugar levels. And this year, research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Mental Health highlights the opposite effect: that is, having depression, particularly as an older adult, is associated with faster biological aging and poorer health.
The study was conducted by researchers from the UConn Center of Aging and pulled data from 426 adults diagnosed with “late life depression.” For their investigation, the researchers took blood samples from participants and measured the level of proteins associated with aging (these proteins are released from “old,” sub-optimally functioning cells and promote damaging inflammation in the body).
While the study had no control group (say, of non-depressed older adults) to strengthen their findings, the researchers did come up with some interesting data:
- People who had higher levels of aging-associated proteins in their blood were more likely to also have medical problems like high cholesterol and high blood pressure
- Accelerated biological aging in depressed adults was correlated with worse heart health (which corroborates with other research cited by Psychology Today showing that chronic depression can be as harmful to heart health as smoking – yes, smoking!)
- People with higher levels of aging-associated proteins also performed worse on cognitive tests of brain health and function
The researchers further note that depression in older adulthood is also associated with other negative consequences, including an increased risk of frailty, poorer quality of life, decreased functional independence, and an increased risk of dementia and premature death.
Compare this to another study published in 2020 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. This study revealed that a positive mental outlook was associated with better brain function in older adults. In fact, the researchers “found that the integrity of the white matter and stable executive function appear to be important for maintaining healthy mood states in late life,” explains the NIA in an article discussing the study in a December 17, 2020 article posted to their website. (As a reminder, white matter is “where information is transmitted from one brain region to another,” according to the NIA, while the executive function is “the ability to perform complex tasks such as planning or decision-making that require attentional focus.”)
In other words: the healthier your brain is in late adulthood, the better your chances of avoiding late-life depression and maintaining a more positive mental outlook (and enjoying all the other health benefits associated with a positive outlook).
If optimizing brain health as you age can improve your mood (and perhaps vice versa), here are some things you should focus on
So, if you want to maintain healthy brain matter, cognitive function, and mood as you age – and even combat depression while you’re at it, here’s what the NIA recommends:
- Take care of your physical health (e.g., limit alcohol use, get enough sleep, manage chronic health conditions with a trusted integrative healthcare provider, etc.)
- Eat a nourishing, well-balanced diet that promotes a healthy weight (generally speaking, this is a diet high in things like organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, grass fed meats, wild caught fish, pasture raised poultry, and raw dairy products, while low in things like processed foods and refined sugar)
- Stay physically active
- Stay cognitively active through things like reading, puzzles, learning a new skill, or picking up a new hobby
- Build and maintain good social connections
- Manage stress (things like journaling, yoga, therapy, and improving sleep hygiene can help)
And remember, old dogs can learn new tricks, but it’s never too early to start investing in your future health and well-being!
Sources for this article include: