With age, achy joints and sore muscles in unexpected new places come with the territory. But there’s a difference between the everyday discomforts of aging and chronic pain — and the latter, if not treated, can cause more than physical damage.

According to a new study by the University of Florida, chronic pain causes brains to age about two years more rapidly, rendering sufferers more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological issues.

“As we age, cells, tissues and different organs in our bodies actually undergo profound changes that could be different from actual chronological age,” Professor Yenisel Cruz-Almeida, the study’s lead author and a researcher at UF’s Institute on Aging, told WLRN Miami.

The study took place over three years. Over the course of the study, the researchers measured the gray and white matter in the brains of 47 people ages 60 to 83. Individuals who lived without chronic pain or whose pain was regularly and properly treated had younger-looking brains than those who did not treat their pain.

“I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, I have chronic pain. I’m doomed.’ There is more nuance than that”
Professor Yenisel Cruz-Almeida
University of Florida Institute on Aging

“I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, I have chronic pain. I’m doomed.’ There is more nuance than that,” Cruz-Almeida said in UF’s press release. The team found that a general positive outlook and/or regular exercise also helped slow brain aging, even in those with chronic pain.

Bottom line: Addressing chronic pain and making time for things that make you happy will keep your brain younger and reduce the risk of detrimental neurological issues.

But chronic pain sufferers shouldn’t consider these findings a diagnosis — instead, treat them as inspiration to add elements to your life that make it more enjoyable all around.

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