Results showed that exposure to social stress was associated with a greater proportion of T cells committed only to fighting infections like those already encountered and fewer T cells that could adapt to new challenges, indicative of accelerated immune aging. The association between social stress and T cells was still present even after controlling for education, smoking, drinking, body mass index, and race or ethnicity.
Researchers did find that, after controlling for lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise habits, the connection between stress and accelerated immune aging was not as strong. These findings suggest that improving diet and exercise behaviors in older adults may help offset the immune aging associated with stress.
Increased immune aging is associated with chronic diseases, weakened response to acute infections, increased risk of pneumonia, reduced efficacy of vaccines, and organ system aging. This study provides important insights into the effect of social stress on immune aging, highlighting the key role of health behaviors and social-environmental conditions. It also identifies potential intervention points that may be useful in addressing inequalities in aging.