11/21/2013 07:02 am ET

Joblessness Can Make Men Age Faster, Study Says

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More bad news about joblessness. And, no, we're not talking about the unemployment rates.

New research suggests long-term unemployment could actually cause faster aging in men. Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Oulu looked at DNA samples collected in 1997 from 5,620 men and women all aged 31. The analysis uncovered that men who were jobless for more than two of the previous three years were twice as likely as their gainfully employed peers to have shorter telomeres.

"Shorter telomeres are linked to higher risk of various age-related diseases and earlier death. Stressful life experiences in childhood and adulthood have previously been linked to accelerated telomere shortening. We have now shown that long-term unemployment may cause premature aging too," said researcher Jessica Buxton from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London.

Telomeres are repeating DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes. They shorten over our lifetime, with shorter telomeres associated with a higher risk of age-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

Emotional stressors can shorten telomeres as well as lifestyle choices like smoking or inactivity. Unemployment may shorten telomeres because of the psychological toll it takes. The American Psychological Association says unemployed people are twice as likely to have mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and even low self esteem.

While men seemed to suffer significant health consequences from unemployment, the same pattern wasn't seen among the women studied. Researchers say this could be because fewer women in the study experienced long-term unemployment.

Research has shown that unemployed people have poorer health habits and can even have higher mortality rates. A Finnish study found people who were jobless at two points over three years had considerably higher death rates -- 279 percent greater for men and 107 percent for women.

"These findings raise concerns about the long-term effects of joblessness in early adulthood," said researcher Leena Ala-Mursula from the University of Oulu. "Keeping people in work should be an essential part of general health promotion."



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