Reaction to Stress Predicts Health Later in Life

11/08/2012

Busy photoLife can come at you like a ton of bricks. It can be unexpected, unwelcomed, and unhappy. But according to new research at Penn State, it’s not what happens in life that makes the difference, but how you react to the stress. 

"Our research shows that how you react to what happens in your life today predicts your chronic health conditions and 10 years in the future, independent of your current health and your future stress," said David Almeida, professor of human development and family studies on Science Daily. "For example, if you have a lot of work to do today and you are really grumpy because of it, then you are more likely to suffer negative health consequences 10 years from now than someone who also has a lot of work to do today, but doesn't let it bother her."

Researchers used data from the MIDUS study (Midlife in the United States), funded by the National Institutes on Aging. The study looked at people’s reactions to events and their health and well being 10 years later. 

Daily Stressors

Researchers asked participants questions by phone for eight days about what had happened to them in the previous 24 hours. Questions revolved around participant use of time, moods, physical health symptoms, productivity, and stressors throughout the day like traffic jams and arguments. 

"Most social-science surveys are based on long retrospective accounts of your life in the past month or maybe the past week," Almeida said on Science Daily. "By asking people to focus just on the past 24 hours, we were able to capture a particular day in someone's life. Then, by studying consecutive days, we were able to see the ebb and flow of their daily experiences."

Cortisol in the Body

Researchers collected saliva samples from all 2,000 participants four times over the eight days to determine the amount of cortisol in saliva. We are programmed to react to stressful situations by releasing cortisol. It’s a crucial hormone that's secreted by the adrenal glands, that regulates blood pressure, insulin, glucose metabolism, and inflammatory response. 

Then they linked info found in the MIDUS study to the saliva results including demographic information, chronic health conditions, personality types, and social networks. 

According to Science Daily, “The team found that people who become upset by daily stressors and continue to dwell on them after they have passed were more likely to suffer from chronic health problems -- especially pain, such as that related to arthritis, and cardiovascular issues -- 10 years later.”

People tended to either have a "velcro" mentality, where stressors stuck with them the whole day or the "teflon" mentality where stressors slid right off. 

Bottom line -- take a closer look at the way stress impacts your daily life to stay healthy later on.

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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