01/23/2012 08:41 am ET

TEDMED 2011: How Stress Causes Aging (VIDEO)

While it seems inevitable that as we age we will experience more health problems, our chronological age isn't always the same as how old our body acts, researchers say.

Calvin Harley, Ph.D., and Elissa Epel, co-founders of Telome Health, Inc. (THI), a molecular diagnostics company, presented at TEDMED 2011 on the subject of telomeres, the tips of our chromosomes that act as a cell's built-in clock.

While telomeres are tiny, they play a big role in aging: As they get shorter, they become unstable. This in turn results in cells that can no longer divide, causing tissue and organs to fail, explains Harley. Unhealthy habits like skipping exercise or indulging in too many fatty foods slowly dwindles the telomeres.

THI aims to leverage this research for health monitoring that could encourage people to live healthier in an attempt to stave off age-related disease. One of the easiest places to start may be with stress. Epel explains that psychological stress affects telomere length as well. "We have an epidemic of stress," she says. "You might think about stress as a potent drug and many of us are on high doses for long periods and we don't even know it."

Watch the video above to find out more about the practical applications of telomere biology, as well as Epel's tips for reducing the impact of stress on our cells.

For more on aging, click here.