There Goes the Neighborhood
Sophisticated new research suggests that where you live may influence how fast you’re aging. In short: living in a neighborhood perceived to be of low quality is associated with a shorter lifespan. Published recently in the journal, PLOS ONE, the findings were determined by examining a cellular marker that indicates one’s relative state of aging, at the cellular level.
The study was inspired by previous research, which has noted a link between living in poor, disadvantaged neighborhoods and worse mental and physical health. Crime, noise, and vandalism are generally higher in these neighborhoods. Some studies have focused on various aspects of neighborhood environments—such as lack of green space, or higher levels of air pollution—to explain these observations.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh wondered if living in a disadvantaged neighborhood has a direct effect on cellular health. To find out, they measured something called leukocyte telomere length. Leukocytes are white blood cells. Telomeres are structures at the ends of chromosomes. Shorter telomere lengths are associated with shorter lifespans, because cells no longer divide and replace themselves correctly once telomeres reach a certain minimum length.
Using data gathered in the Netherlands, the American researchers were able to find a direct link between telomere length and perceived neighborhood quality. “The differences in telomere length between the two groups were comparable to 12 years in chronological age,” said lead author, Mijung Park, Ph.D. “It's possible that their cells are chronically activated in response to psychological and physiological stresses created by disadvantaged socioeconomic, political and emotional circumstances.”
I think this underscores a point I make in my book, True Nutrition—European Secrets for American Women: Optimal health depends not only on a healthful diet and adequate exercise, but also on other less tangible aspects of life, too. Things like community involvement, relaxation, friendships, and adequate, restful sleep. I’m guessing it’s difficult to sleep soundly when noise pollution and fear of crime are relentless. And that, evidently, takes a toll in terms of accelerated aging.
Mijung Park, Josine E. Verhoeven, Pim Cuijpers, Charles F. Reynolds III, Brenda W. J. H. Penninx. Where You Live May Make You Old: The Association between Perceived Poor Neighborhood Quality and Leukocyte Telomere Length. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (6): e0128460 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128460