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Afraid of crowds? Heights? Spiders? If you suffer from one of these or other “phobic anxieties” — and about 6 to 10 percent of the American population does — it could mean you’ll age more rapidly than your non-phobic counterparts. In fact, a study published this week found that compared to a person with no phobic symptoms, seriously anxious individuals were aging about six years faster.

Looking at data from more than 5,200 women between ages 42 and 69, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found a strong link between phobic anxiety and shorter telomeres, the bits of DNA at the end of chromosomes that protect them from deterioration. Shortened telomeres have been linked to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, premature aging and premature death.

“Many people wonder about whether — and how — stress can make us age faster,” said psychiatrist and study author Olivia Okereke.

This study is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress … and a plausible mechanism for premature aging.”

However, Okereke also stressed that more research is needed because this study doesn’t prove cause-and-effect or show which came first, the anxiety or the shorter telomeres.

Friday Quick Hits: 

  • Helen Reddy comes out of retirement. The “I Am Woman” singer/songwriter, who has been living in Australia and working in clinical hypnotherapy for the last decade, is ready to roar again – just don’t expect new performances packed with old hits. “I’m doing the songs that I always loved,” said Reddy. “So many are album cuts that never got any airplay, and they’re gorgeous songs.”

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