In parts 1 and 2 of Why Some of Us Age Much Faster ... we learned that the larger the gap between our beliefs (read that, EXPECTATIONS) and our desires, the greater the stress that we experience. It is this resultant stress, or self-imposed resistance to our aspirations, that makes us age faster than necessary. We also discussed how by choosing thoughts that more closely align what we expect to happen (our beliefs) with what we would like to happen (our desires), the better our quality of life and the slower we age. Choosing our thoughts more wisely works because our beliefs are just strongly myelinated pathways in our brain resulting from habitual thoughts on a subject, the underpinnings of which can be based on fact or fiction.

Now it is time to look at how and why stress ages us from a purely biological perspective. The trillions of cells that make up your body and brain react to stress as if there were an imminent threat to your existence -- as if there were a saber-tooth tiger, from eons ago, about to attack. Imagine, if you will, a saber-tooth tiger up in a tree in front and above you. Don't worry; this will all make sense eventually. Notice that he's wiggling his hindquarters as cats do right before they are about to pounce on their prey -- YOU!

Is this a good time to reach into your backpack and pull out your copy of What to Do When a Saber-Tooth Tiger Is about to Attack? No, there's no time to read or even think clearly -- it's a time to simply REACT, if you're going to survive. This is STRESS! To survive this imminent threat you must summon the energy and strength to pick up that huge rock or log lying nearby and powerfully swing/bash it against the beast's head as he pounces on you.

Here are a couple of questions related to this perilous situation:

•Does it make any sense to continue digesting the food in your stomach? Of course not; the energy needed to break down food could be better used to fight or flee the big cat.

•How about killing the microbes that reside inside you? No, they are not an immediate danger. You will be in the cat's belly long before those bacteria and viruses can do their harm.

•What about corralling and escorting cancer cells out of the body? A good use of your energy at this time? No, you can use this energy, also, to fend off the beast.

•How about delivering nutrients to your trillions of cells and removing toxic waste from them? It would take too long to get any benefit from these processes. The energy these processes would require can be funneled to your your fight/flight mechanisms.

•Finally, is this a good time to repair and rejuvenate cells (grow new cells) to fight free-radical damage? Not really.

With all the strength and energy summoned by putting everyday bodily functions on hold, you hopefully had the wherewithal to knock the beast unconscious and escape (Note: No animals were actually injured in the telling of this story). When your heart stops racing, your muscles untense and you can unwind, your physical apparatus can go back to digesting food, killing marauding microbes, and fighting free-radical damage by repairing and regenerating cells.

Although you've probably not run into any saber-tooth tigers or other beasts desiring to devour you lately, you have undoubtedly had other types of stressful situations with which to deal -- ones that linger. That's the problem. At work there may be an associate who drives you crazy, someone with whom you don't get along, but must work with; or perhaps you've a boss who keeps you on edge. Maybe there's a situation at home, perhaps a lack of finances or an ongoing health issue concerning you or a family member. These situations can keep you stressed week after week, month after month or even for years at a time. The problem is that your body treats all stress as a threat to your existence -- as if there were a beast about to attack -- and puts the normal bodily functions (that keep you youthful) on hold.

More specifically, here's what happens during stress. The adrenal glands release cortisol, adrenaline and other stress-related hormones into the bloodstream to prepare to fight or flee the "saber-tooth tiger." Only there isn't a short-term battle with a beast with which to deal. Too often it's an ongoing stress. On the other hand, during times of low stress or no stress, human growth hormone (hgh) is put into the bloodstream to start the process of repair and regeneration of cells to fight the free-radical damage et al that age us.

Since the stress hormones are associated with dealing with imminent threats to survival, they take priority. When there is cortisol in the system, hgh is not released and the repair and growth of new cells that would keep us young doesn't happen. In other words, the more time you spend stressed over anything, signaled by negative emotions such as depression, fear, anger, overwhelment, frustration, confusion ... the less time there is to deal with microbes, cancerous cells and refurbishing the body and brain.

Here's the key, the KICKER: Our THOUGHTS directly determine our emotional state. Our emotional state, in turn, directly affects our health. There are few saber-tooth-tiger moments for most of us, but plenty of annoyances and various other opportunities to get stressed and stay stressed. Most of this stress is because our beliefs (what we think is going to happen) is in opposition to our desires (what we would like to happen). By focusing on thoughts that create beliefs that are aligned with our dreams and goals, we lessen the stress, keep the "saber-tooth tigers" at bay, and thus slow aging.

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From Ed Mayhew -- the author of Fitter After 50, Fitter For Life and other books, CDs, videos and articles on how you, too, can make falling apart as you age merely an option -- NOT a mandate. Why not make the rest of your life , the BEST of your life? and