Fitness Magazine

Depression Accelerates Unhealthy Aging

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

Depression Accelerates Unhealthy Aging

by Melina Meza

In the Sadhana Pada of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali we are introduced to the eight rungs/limbs/steps of yoga, whose practice helps us develop attention as a tool for discriminating between ignorance and awareness and truth from illusion as the means for liberation or enlightenment. The second limb/step contains five niyamas or observances/practices of self-training and deals with how we relate to ourselves inwardly. One of the five niyamas is santosha, which means “contentment” or “true happiness.” To be contented and happy even while experiencing life’s difficulties is a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We need to accept that there is a purpose for everything and cultivate contentment even if the final outcome of the purpose is unforeseen and unfavorable. It also means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don't have. Humans in general are never contented with what they possess and are always desirous of some materialistic pleasure, and if these pleasures do not get fulfilled, it triggers depression, discontentment, unhappiness, frustration, anger and loss of mental peace leading to a disharmonious life. If we are truly contented with our needs and justly happy with our lifestyle and what we currently have, it will help us in the journey to absolute truth and the highest realization.
In one of my earlier posts Anger Management: Philosophy, Science, and Yoga, I discussed research studies from health professionals, behavioral scientists, psychologists and others indicating that rage and anger are definitely hazardous to health. Yet another emotional state that triggers unhealthy aging is depression. Past studies have already associated depression with diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. Depression is an extremely complex disease and depressed individuals feel overwhelmed with sadness and loneliness for unknown reasons. Depression prevents an individual from enjoying life. Additionally, its effects go far beyond mood alone as it also impacts energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health. Factors that trigger depression include but are not limited to abuse, certain medications, personal/professional/social conflicts, death or a loss of a loved one, chronic illness, genetics, substance abuse, some traumatic experience, social isolation, and so on.
Now a recent study Major depressive disorder and accelerated cellular aging: results from a large psychiatric cohort study suggests that severe depression may trigger rapid and unhealthy aging. According to this new study, severe depression doesn't just affect the mind, but it also attacks the body on a cellular level and speeds up the aging process. In this study performed jointly by researchers from Netherlands and UC San Francisco, depressed individuals were shown to have accelerated cellular aging by nearly six years, suggesting that these people age significantly faster compared with people without the disorder. The study involved 1,095 patients suffering from severe depression alongside 802 people who had recovered from depression and 510 healthy individuals who had no history of the disorder. Researchers measured the length of cell structures called telomeres, which are "caps" at the end of chromosomes that protect the DNA during cell division. For more on telomeres and longevity, see Baxter’s very informative post Aging, Telomeres, and Yoga.
Normally, telomeres shorten with each cell division and this shortening serves as an index of a cell's aging. Thus, telomeres may be an indicator of longer cell life, and by extension, longer overall lifespan. In the above-mentioned study, depressed individuals had significantly shorter telomeres compared with people in the control group suggesting that cellular aging in people with depression is accelerated by several years. The severity of a person's depression as well as a longer duration of symptoms resulted in an even shorter telomere length. Notably, the results held after controlling for other lifestyle variables—including weight, drinking and smoking—that are also known to contribute to aging. While other research has suggested that lifestyle interventions may have significant benefits for the aging process, it remains to be seen as to whether fruitful interventions for depressed individuals would have an impact on depression and reverse the aging process.
People are looking for ways to bring peace and santosha in their lives and santosha seems to be the most sought after principle in the world today (see Santosha: Happiness and Longevity). The good news is that depression is not an inevitable part of aging, and there are many steps and lifestyle changes that a depressed individual can also take to overcome the symptoms and the challenges they face to bring santosha in their lives. One recommendation is to practice yoga asana, meditation and pranayama, all of which have been shown to reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and be helpful for people with severe depression (for suggested practices, see Tamasic and Rajasic Depression and other posts on depression by Nina). Research from several groups has already demonstrated the therapeutic effects of yoga, meditation and pranayama in reducing the parameters of stress, including cortisol, thereby bringing about relief from depression.
Researchers and practitioners alike agree that a combination of yoga, meditation and pranayama is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach not only to reverse depression and aging but also to improve overall health. The above, together with other findings suggest that depression can be turned into happiness to causally influence health and healthy aging. Albert Ellis, the noted American psychologist once remarked, “You largely constructed your depression. It wasn't given to you. Therefore, you can deconstruct it.” So how about using yoga to deconstruct depression and bring santosha in our own lives!

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog