When you think about reducing your stress, the notion of slowing down your racing mind and busy day is one of the first things that may pop into your head. This typically helps you tackle things one by one instead of being overwhelmed by all the things at once, and helps you lower your stress level.

Fascinatingly, the same can be said about our cells; on a molecular level, slowing down a cell’s processes can help it better cope with stress and survive longer, according to a new study. The researchers, from the University of California, Berkeley, examined blood stem cells and found that their ability to repair damage in the mitochondria was extremely important in their survival.

“Ultimately, a cell dies when it can’t deal well with stress,” Danica Chen, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, said in the press release. “We found that by slowing down the activity of mitochondria in the blood stem cells of mice, we were able to enhance their capacity to handle stress and rejuvenate old blood. This confirms the significance of this pathway in the aging process.”

Cell aging occurs as a result of accumulated stress on the cells, a process that has been linked to shortened telomeres — or the caps of DNA at the end of chromosomes. Studies have shown that a healthy lifestyle and plenty of exercise can actually maintain telomere length and reduce shortening, thus preventing aging in a way. One study, released in 2014, found that women who were going through stressful events but maintained a healthy diet and exercise regimen reversed telomere shortening, compared to women going through stress who didn’t exercise.

“[S]tressful events can accelerate immune cell aging in adults, even in the short period of one year,” Dr. Eli Puterman, an author of that study, said. “Exciting, though, is that these results further suggest that keeping active, and eating and sleeping well during periods of high stress are particularly important to attenuate the accelerated aging of our immune cells.”

Mitochondria Traffic Jam

In the recent Berkeley study, the researchers took blood stem cells from aged mice and focused on a group of proteins called sirtuins, which are involved in stress resistance, aging, and inflammation. One particular sirtuin was of use to them: known as SIRT7, it increased when cells needed to cope with stress caused by misfolded proteins in the mitochondria. Levels of SIRT7 also decrease with age, making it harder for cells to repair themselves and cope with stress as they get older.

“We isolated blood stem cells from aged mice and found that when we increased the levels of SIRT7, we were able to reduce mitochondrial protein-folding stress,” Danica Chen, senior author of the study, said in the press release. “We then transplanted the blood stem cells back into mice, and SIRT7 improved the blood stem cells’ regenerative capacity.”

The researchers also found that blood stem cells that don’t have enough SIRT7 to resist stress end up proliferate more and faster than normal — due to increased protein production and mitochondria activity. Slowing all of this down, they found, allowed cells more time to recover from stress.

Essentially, cells are going to be less overwhelmed when they only have one problem to focus on at a time.

“You can deal with this congestion by removing all the cars that are blocked, but you can also stop more cars from getting onto the freeway,” Chen said. “When there’s a mitochondrial protein-folding problem, there is a traffic jam in the mitochondria. If you prevent more proteins from being created and added to the mitochondria, you are helping to reduce the jam.”

So handle your stress by doing less and doing it slowly, because not only will it help your mind — but it will also benefit your cells on a molecular level.