Stress-relief is one of the most well-known benefits of massage therapy; in fact, it’s the number-one reason clients seek massage.

New research shows that stress pays a key role in aging.

The pilot study shows that women who maintain a healthy weight and who have lower perceived stress may be less likely to have chromosome changes associated with aging than obese and stressed women.

The pilot study is part of the larger Sister Study, which is looking at the environmental and genetic characteristics of women whose sister had breast cancer to identify factors associated with developing breast cancer.

Telomere length is one of the many measures being looked at in the Sister Study.

Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes and buffer them against the loss of important genes during cell replication. Over the course of an individual’s lifetime, telomeres shorten, gradually becoming so short that they can trigger cell death. Factors such as obesity and perceived stress may shorten telomeres and accelerate the aging process.

The researchers also found that the effects of stress may be stronger in older women. They found that among women 55 years and older, those with higher perceived stress had 5 percent shorter telomeres than women with low stress levels.

“Together these two studies reinforce the need to start a healthy lifestyle early and maintain it,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“[T] here are things people can do to modify their behavior and live healthier lives, such as maintain a healthy weight and cultivate healthy responses to stress,” said Birnbaum.

In a national study conducted by Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals in 2008, 58 percent of consumers reported that they sought massage for “relaxation, restoration or stress relief.”