Long-Term Unemployment May Affect Lifespan

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Keeping your nose to the grindstone at the office might scrape some skin off your beak, but not having a job to go to may shave years off your life.

According to a new study from the University of Oulu in Finland, long-term unemployment speeds aging and increases the risk of age-related diseases.

To begin, researchers studied the DNA samples of more than 5,600 people who were born in 1966. Fast forward 31 years and the researchers found that those who'd been unemployed for at least two years were more than twice as likely to have short telomeres.

Telomeres are protective caps located at the ends of chromosomes. They shorten as you go through life, and as they shrink, your risk of age-related illnesses -- such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease -- increases.

So why were the telomeres shorter in folks who were chronically unemployed?  The researchers blame stress.

Unemployment is stressful, and increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol may snip telomeres and shorten your lifespan, says study author Dr. Leena Ala-Mursula.

However, Dr. Ala-Mursula cautions that previous research found that overwork can sometimes have an equally-negative effect on your DNA, so the best advice is to maintain a balance between the job and home, and get plenty of exercise.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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