Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. With age, they shorten, and as their structural integrity weakens, the cells age and die quicker. Telomere length thus is a biomarker of cellular age. Stress is also thought to shorten telomere length.
A year-long study that looked at the effects of three healthy behaviors in 239 post-menopausal, non-smoking women has found that women who engaged in lower levels of healthy behaviors showed a significantly greater telomere shortening for every major life stressor that occurred. However, stress didn't lead to greater shortening in those women who maintained active lifestyles, healthy diets, and good quality sleep.
Shorter telomeres have become associated with a broad range of aging-related diseases, including stroke, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis diabetes, and many forms of cancer.
Puterman, E., Lin, J., Krauss, J., Blackburn, E. H., & Epel, E. S. (2015). Determinants of telomere attrition over 1 year in healthy older women: stress and health behaviors matter. Molecular Psychiatry, 20(4), 529–535. http://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2014.70