Five negative thought patterns than can affect how fast we age

By recognising and adjusting negative thought patterns, we can slow down or even reverse ageing - a new book claims

Olivia Blair
Thursday 27 April 2017 20:37
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People spend tens of thousands of pounds to try to make themselves look younger - be it through expensive anti-wrinkle cream, botox or hair transplants. But, what if all that we needed to do was amend our way of thinking?

Elizabeth Blackburn, the Nobel-winning scientist and health psychologist Elissa Epel have researched the effect on telomeres for years. In their new book The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier and Longer, of which an excerpt is printed on Ted,, the authors explain how certain thoughts lead to shorter telomeres which can ultimately lead to rapid ageing and earlier death.

Telomeres are essentially the ends of our chromosomes. They take note of what and how much we eat and exercise among many other factors. Telomere shortening is associated with ageing, mortality and age-related illnesses and diseases.

Blackburn and Epel suggest that certain thought patterns can trigger telomere shortening.

One of them being “cynical hostility” which is a combination of anger and frequent doubts about whether other people can be trusted.

“Someone with hostility doesn’t just think, ‘I hate to stand in long lines at the grocery store’, they think, ‘That other shopper deliberately sped up and beat me to my rightful position in the line’ and then seethe,” Blackburn explains.

She also points out that those who exhibit traits of cynically hostile traits have been scientifically proven to be more subject to cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease and die younger.

The second negative thought pattern which affects our telomeres: pessimism. Blackburn and Epel’s own research showed that people who scored higher on a pessimism inventory had shorter telomeres and also tended to die earlier.

The third negative thought process which affects how fast you age is rumination which is the act of repeating problems over and over again in your head. In another of the author’s studies on women, the more the participants ruminated the lower their telomerase in their ageing CD8 cells.

The fourth thought pattern affecting premature ageing is suppressing unwanted thoughts and feelings. Though pushing away anxiety-inducing thoughts may seem like a good solution to feeling better, it isn’t as, generally, the more you try not to think of a thought, the more it attempts to demand your attention thus causing an increased amount of stress. In a study by Blackburn and Epel, avoiding negative feelings and thoughts were associated with shorter telomeres.

Finally, the last negative thought pattern is mind wandering – something most people are probably susceptible to at some point in their day or week. A study by the authors showed that women with higher levels of reported mind-wandering had shorter telomeres.

The authors claim that ageing can therefore be “accelerated or slowed – and, in some aspects, even reversed” as they have seen telomeres lengthening in their experiments. So, in order to do the latter, we need to become aware of our thinking, and how it might be negative, and then not get so caught up in it.

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