How Does Depression Affect Aging?

Not all signs of depression are obvious. According to Mayo Clinic, major depressive disorder is often marked by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and apathy. However, symptoms can extend far beyond a low mood. Hidden signs of depression can include appetite changes, substance abuse, disrupted sleep patterns, body aches, and loss of libido (per MedicalNewsToday).

Clearly, mental and physical health are related, and what happens in the mind can radically impact the rest of the body. That might be why, according to Healthline, people with depression may be more likely to suffer from digestive conditions, high blood pressure, and frequent illness. They may also struggle to recover from strokes and heart attacks compared to patients who don't have major depression, placing them at a higher risk of death, says WebMD.

Along with these physical health complications, the mood disorder may also play a major role in how people age over time.

Depression speeds up aging in the brain and body

Research is uncovering the connection between depression and premature aging, with one study even arguing that poor mental health may age people faster than smoking. The 2022 study published in the journal Aging found that psychological factors affect how quickly someone ages more than their biological sex, marital status, place of residence, or whether or not they smoke.

Another 2018 study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry looked at the DNA of people suffering from depression and found that their DNA aged faster than their true age. In some extreme cases, the difference exceeded 10 years between the age of their DNA and their chronological age.

Unsurprisingly, some research also suggests that the brain ages more quickly in people who have been diagnosed with depression. OneĀ 2018 study published in Psychological Medicine found a strong correlation between depression and cognitive decline.

Besides rapid aging within the body, depression-related aging can also be spotted in people's appearance. Dr. Amy Wechsler, adjunct assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and dermatologist, explained to Everyday Health that the hormones associated with depression jeopardize sleep quality, leading to "baggy, puffy eyes and a dull or lifeless complexion." The stress related to depression may also cause wrinkles and fine lines on the skin (per Healthline).

Depression treatments may offer anti-aging benefits

Stressing over aging might only make depression feel worse. However, that doesn't mean that people with depression can't take steps to slow down their sped-up internal clock. Prioritizing mental health by seeking treatment for major depressive disorder can simultaneously fight aging too. Common treatment options for depression include therapy, antidepressant medications, and self-help exercises (per NHS).

Many lifestyle changes that have been found to benefit people with depression may also be effective anti-aging strategies. For example, many foods that can reduce the symptoms of depression like vegetables and nuts are also said to have anti-aging properties (per Healthline). Exercise is another healthy and natural way to tackle both depression and aging at the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And for those who have developed depression in late adulthood, a mindset shift can go a long way. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that people who had a positive attitude toward aging lived 7.5 years longer than those who viewed aging negatively.