According to a new study conducted by researchers from Concordia University and the University of British Columbia, older adults who have high levels of perceived stress actually engage in lower levels of physical activity which result in decreased physical health over time. The benefits of physical activity have been well documented, but these benefits are extremely evident in older adults who experience elevated stress levels. “Some of the benefits of physical activity are attributable to modulation of biological processes involved in disease (e.g., increased cardiorespiratory fitness, decreased blood pressure, more musculoskeletal strength); so evidence that psychological mechanisms, such as the perception of stress, may explain beneficial health effects of physical activity,” said the team. Additionally, they noted that high levels of stress increase symptoms of depression and anxiety and make this segment of the population more vulnerable to serious physical health conditions.
The team enlisted 157 adults from the Montreal Aging and Health Study (MAHS), all over age 60, for their research. They assessed their physical health at baseline, 2 and 4 years out. The participants were measured for stress using the Perceived Stress Scale at the same points in time. The results revealed that the individuals who reported the highest levels of stress at baseline also reported the poorest physical health four years after. Additionally, this group was also found to engage in the least amount of physical activity. The team believes these findings have significant implications for older adults. “These findings demonstrate that physical activity has the potential to ameliorate chronically high perceptions of stress and thereby produce long-term benefits on physical health,” they said. “This implies that physical activity may be especially beneficial for physical health among vulnerable older adults who perceive stress.” They added that even in people exhibiting low levels of stress, the benefits of physical activity may prevent future negative health issues if stress becomes an issue as they age.
Rueggeberg, R., Wrosch, C., & Miller, G. E. (2011, August 29). The Different Roles of Perceived Stress in the Association Between Older Adults’ Physical Activity and Physical Health. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025242
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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