Anxiety, fatigue, stress, pain—all of these are reasons people book massage sessions.

New research indicates anxiety is linked to shortened telomeres—the DNA-protein complexes that protect chromosomes from deteriorating and guard the genetic information at the ends of chromosomes during cell division—and contributes to accelerated aging.

The study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) shows that a common form of anxiety, known as phobic anxiety, was associated with shorter telomeres in middle-aged and older women, and suggests that phobic anxiety is a possible risk factor for accelerated aging, according to a press release.

Telomeres are considered markers of biological or cellular aging, and shortened telomeres have been linked to increased risk of cancers, heart disease, dementia and mortality.

In this large, cross-sectional study, researchers had obtained blood samples from 5,243 women, age 42 to 69 years, who were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study, the press release noted. Using the samples, the researchers analyzed telomere lengths, as well as the participants’ concurrent self-reports regarding phobic symptoms on a validated questionnaire.

Having a high phobic anxiety level was associated with significantly shorter telomere lengths. The difference in telomere lengths for women who were highly phobic vs. not was similar to what was seen for an additional six years of age.

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