Depression and loneliness ages you faster than smoking, study finds

A newly published study has found that depression, loneliness and unhappiness can age you faster than smoking and even some diseases.

According to research published in the Aging-US journal, everyone has an age based on their date of birth (known as their "chronological age" – but they also have a "biological age", which is based on the ageing of the body’s functions. Someone's "biological age" is influenced by genetics, lifestyle and other factors. Studies have previously suggested the higher the biological age, the higher the risk of various diseases and the risk of death.

As part of the study, researchers from Stanford University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong built an "ageing clock" based on data collected from 4,846 adults in the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS). The study included 16 blood biomarkers, including cholesterol and glucose levels, participants' sex and information such as their blood pressure and BMI. The team then compared the chronological age of individuals predicted by the model with their actual age.

"Psychological factors, such as feeling unhappy or being lonely, add up to 1.65 years to one’s biological age, and the aggregate effect exceeds the effects of biological sex, living area, marital status and smoking status," said Fedor Galkin, who authored the study. "We conclude that the psychological component should not be ignored in ageing studies due to its significant impact on biological age."

Photo credit: Delmaine Donson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Delmaine Donson - Getty Images

Galkin continued: "Altogether, we have demonstrated that the pace of ageing is significantly associated with psychological features. The observed contribution of one’s mental state to one’s biological age is significant and is comparable to the effect of smoking.

"Taking care of your psychological health is the greatest contributor that you can have to slowing down your pace of ageing."

Depression advice you might actually find useful

  • Use the time when you feel less awful to plan for when you inevitably feel gloomy again

  • Tell your housemates/family/whoever has to spend time with you that it’s not up to them to fix you or look after you

  • Follow social media accounts that make you feel less alone and crap

  • If you’re really feeling awful, let yourself feel it

Head here to read all of our tips.

For information, support and advice about mental health and where to get support, visit Mind’s website at or call Mind’s Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 6.00pm).

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