We all want to get rid of wrinkles.
They’re a sure sign of aging, and in a world that values youthfulness, you’re probably willing to do whatever it takes to make them disappear.
But with research suggesting that premature aging may result from certain environmental factors, maybe it’s time to forget the fancy formulas and focus on making changes to your lifestyle instead.
Is Your Job Making You Age Faster?
You probably spend a large portion of your daily life doing your job. Thinking about your job. And, probably, worrying about your job.
Have you considered the fact that certain aspects of your working life could be accelerating the aging process?
Let’s explore this in a little more detail.
It’s common knowledge that stress can leave you worn out, irritable and susceptible to illness. Financial concerns, job security, deadlines and insufficient healthcare plans are just some of the factors that can promote workplace stress.
But exactly how might work-related stress affect the speed with which you age?
Telomeres, a Marker of Cellular Aging
Telomeres are regions of DNA found at the ends of each chromosome (the molecules that contain our genetic material). They effectively act as a cap, protecting the chromosomes from deterioration and from getting muddled up with one another.
As cells divide, telomeres become shorter. Over time, telomeres become so short that they can no longer carry out their protective function, and cell division stops.
The shortening of telomeres acts as a sort of biological clock. They serve as markers for the passage of time, biological aging and onset of age-related diseases.
Unlike chronological age, which simply marks the passing of time, here we’re talking about our biological age. This is a far more individual measure, influenced by genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
Rather than reflecting how many birthdays you’ve celebrated, your biological age indicates the extent of body cell deterioration. This is a slightly more sinister, but a far more effective, measure of our future health.
Telomeres, Aging and Environment
Although telomere shortening is an inevitable process, the rate at which they shorten is thought to be modifiable, and it is for this reason that these remarkable little structures have been the focus of much scientific research in recent years.
Scientists around the globe have been researching the effects of various environmental stressors on telomere length and have found that stress can shorten your telomeres, speeding up aging.
Learn more: Natural Anti-Aging Secrets: Healthy DNA
It might seem a little crazy to think about the effects of your job on a cellular level. But if research findings continue to show such strong associations, it’s worth considering how the stressful situations you encounter on a daily basis could be having a direct impact on your longevity.
Chaotic Lifestyles, Chaotic Health?
Zooming back out from the cellular perspective, let’s take a moment to think about how your job might be influencing your stress levels and your overall health.
“Work-life balance? What’s that?”
These behaviors may have become so routine that you don’t even notice them. If that is the case, you might be unaware of how these spillover effects from your work could be negatively impacting your health.
So, you need to reduce your levels of stress. Maybe go on a nice relaxing holiday. Or spend more time engaging in activities that improve your physical and psychological well-being. In order to take a break from your job you need to do just that – take a break!
But with US employers not required by law to give employees vacation days, this very idea might seem idealistic.
Although many employers do offer paid leave, the average worker is likely to take only around 10 days off per year, with some not even using what they are allocated for fear of losing their job.
Considering the majority of any vacation time is likely to fall over annual holidays such as Christmas, I think it’s pretty fair to assume that the average American doesn’t get much respite from their busy work schedules.
If your job includes shift work, you may be putting an even greater strain on your health!
Your circadian rhythm refers to your personal body clock, which generally works in 24-hour cycles and regulates when you sleep, wake and eat.
Disruption to this rhythm – which also influences body temperature, alertness and hormone levels – can cause the body to fall out of sync with the external environment.
The consequences could be a myriad of health problems, including metabolic disorders, impaired cognitive function and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. At best these conditions would impair your ability to age healthily, at worst they could lead to premature death – eek!
The effects listed here are also applicable to individuals who frequently travel across time zones as part of their job, since again, this disrupts the sleep/wake cycle on a regular basis.
If you work out of an office or if you’re sedentary for a large proportion of your working day, you could again be driving forward the aging process.
These findings may come as quite a surprise, especially if you consider yourself generally fit and active.
Maybe standing desks aren’t such a bad idea after all!
Many jobs involve exposure to potentially hazardous substances. Whether you’re a nail technician, engineer or welder, if you’re repeatedly inhaling or coming into contact with toxic chemicals, your health could be at risk.
Luckily, in developed countries, there are laws in place to minimize occupational exposure to carcinogens (substances known to promote cancer).
Nevertheless, carcinogens in the workplace are thought to account for around 4% of all cancers in the US.
Whilst that may not seem like a huge amount, with an estimated 1,735,350 new cancer diagnoses in the States this year alone, occupational exposure would contribute to almost 70,000 of these cases. That’s 70,000 individuals who may not have developed the disease had they been in a different career.
Time for a Change?
OK, I’m not saying you should hand in your resignation first thing tomorrow. That would be a little hasty and, quite frankly, completely unrealistic for the majority of the population.
And, anyway, maybe you gain a great deal of pleasure out of the work that you do. Enjoying your work is something that may, in fact, have a positive impact on certain aspects of your health and the way in which you age.
What is important is to be aware of how your current lifestyle choices may come back to bite you later.
If change isn’t an option right now, maybe it’s worth taking some time to identify the stressors in your career. Then work on modifying these as best you can. Even simple changes can help take the pressure off your body and enable you to live a long and, most importantly, healthy life.
Take Home Message
There are numerous ways in which the work that we do could influence our biological age. Some of them are direct, by affecting cellular aging—as with telomere shortening—and others indirect, by increasing the risk of various chronic diseases. The impact on health is, of course, dependent on the type of job and the degree to which it influences other lifestyle factors. Yet at a time when retirement age is steadily increasing, we need to consider just how much our bodies can take before they simply burn out!