Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Mario Klingemann.

Hot town, summer in the city. Yup, it is hot and humid and we would love those lazy, hazy days for summer to wash over us.

Unfortunately, summer is not always relaxing and easy going. It’s a time when our expectation may be high for fun, yet we are burdened with work and responsibility. One of the important life lessons to learn is how to say NO.

Summer doesn’t need to be non-stop commitments. Set boundaries. Photo: Flickr/Creative Creative Commons, Kusito.

We often say yes, we will try. Or maybe we can get to that, whatever that is, since we want to please others. Learning to say no when some demand too much, or we’re something you don’t want to do or is too stressful is really helpful.

Saying no to something really means you are saying yes to something else. Saying no to that extra project, means saying yes to some free time, to work out or be with family. Saying “No, sorry. That doesn’t work for me” is much better than acquiescing and saying yes reluctantly then being upset, overworked and resentful about the time required. I like to say an absolute yes when I am passionate, interested and engaged with whatever is required. My “no” is a statement, not an opening to be cajoled into a “yes”.

Why is this distinction so important? It relates back to the issues and impact of stress on our bodies. We know that stress is wear and tear on us emotionally. However, we now know that it also means wear and tear on our cells and our physical health. Let me explain.

In our cells we have telomeres, which are caps on the ends of chromosomes. The caps keep the chromosomes healthy. As they age, the telomeres slow that process. There is also an enzyme called telomerase, which works to keep the chromosomes healthy and long lasting. However, we know that these chromosomes shorten with time, eventually die off and the cells die.

In 2009, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn received the Nobel Prize for her work in understanding the relationship between telomeres, telomerase and stress. She did a study with healthy women. All parameters were equal, except that one group had chronically ill children (her model for chronic, unrelenting stress) and the other group had healthy children. As she followed them over time, she was able to show that the group with chronic stress had telomers and telomerase characterized eventually as being 10 years older than women without chronic stress.

This is a remarkable study because we now can understand that chronic stress actually ages our cells physically and doesn’t simply just wear us out emotionally.

“Taking time for ourselves is not being selfish. Rather, we are being selfless, caring for ourselves so that we are less needy in future, aging more slowly and able to remain active and independent.”

Let’s learn how to say no clearly and without doubt so we do not accept added stresses and demands. Clearly say yes when we love the challenge, the learning and our passion is ignited.

Enjoy some relaxed time this summer – reading, biking, and doing the things we loved to do as children to refresh ourselves. Taking time for ourselves is not being selfish. Rather, we are being selfless, caring for ourselves so that we are less needy in future, aging more slowly and able to remain active and independent. That’s the true definition of healthy aging.

Dr. Vivien Brown (shown right) is a family physician in Toronto, a well-known national and international speaker and author of A Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging – Seven Essential Ways to Keep You Vital, Happy and Strong. She is vice president of Medical Affairs, Medisys Health Group, focusing on advancing and promoting preventative healthcare. Dr. Brown is active in numerous organizations including, past president of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada, former chair of the consumer education committee for the North American Menopause Society, board member of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative and Health Choices First, plus numerous provincial and federal advisory bodies.