Stress and how we deal with it throughout our lives plays an important part in the aging process. Our bodies deal with stress by releasing the hormone cortisol and adrenaline to either deal with the stress head on or to leave the stressful situation. After this response, our levels of cortisol and adrenaline return to normal, stable levels, which are typically higher in the morning and lower in the evening.
As we age, our bodies may deal with stress differently.
There is some evidence that unregulated cortisol levels contribute to increased frailty in seniors. Frailty in seniors is diagnosed by slow gait, decreased strength in grip and muscle weakness in general, fatigue, and weight loss that is unintentional.
Researchers in Germany measured cortisol levels in 745 study participants between the ages of 65 and 90 three times a day: upon awakening, 30 minutes after awakening, and in the evening. They found that seniors with less regulated levels of cortisol suffered from three or more of the symptoms of frailty, most significantly in the area of decreased muscle mass and increased weakness.
Frailty is more than the normal aging process.
The risk of mortality increases as frailty increases, as does the risk of institutionalization. Until now, studying the causes of frailty has been difficult and time-consuming, but measuring cortisol seems to be one way to efficiently and effectively study this condition.
This study does not offer any suggestions for prevention of frailty, but it stands to reason that consistent exercise and stress-reduction techniques such as meditation would help decrease the chances of frailty due to unregulated cortisol production. Both exercise and meditation are proven to reduce and help regulate cortisol levels, so it makes sense to stay as active and stress-free as possible throughout your lifetime.
Another study has linked anxiety and depression to frailty, and exercise and breathing techniques or meditation have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of both depression and anxiety and regulate cortisol levels in all ages. The groups in both studies were small, but the results were statistically significant and deserve close attention.
How can you help the seniors in your life stay stress-free and healthy?
Image by Ding Yuin Shan via Flickr