Impact of stress on seniors' health

Stress is a significant contributor to declining health and wellbeing; it has even been identified as a primary cause of cardiovascular diseases, mental health disorders and the weakening of the immune system.

Three senior outdoor workout break

Stress is a significant contributor to declining health and wellbeing; it has even been identified as a primary cause of cardiovascular diseases, mental health disorders and the weakening of the immune system. These conditions (and their impact) only worsen as people get older. Let’s take a closer look at how stress affects overall health and what can be done to maintain optimum well-being and quality of life.

Causes and effects of stress

Stress is part of adult life, and young and old alike face difficulties and challenges that lead to stress. As we get older, however, the effects of stress on the body are more noticeable and pronounced. An aging body has to cope with complications that come with age such as:

  • Decreased lung capacity
  • Weakened muscles of the heart
  • A dwindling immune system

Apart from the effects of aging, senior citizens are exposed to other natural but unique challenges including:

  • Their changing relationships, particularly with their children
  • Loss of a partner or a loved one
  • Little to do and lots of free time in retirement
  • Dwindling physical abilities like mobility, vision or hearing

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety, depression, insomnia, indigestion, headaches and increased risk of heart attack or stroke are all the long-term effects of stress.  

Stress and heart disease

Over the years, a lot of research has been done that relates stress to heart disease, and most studies say that the risk of heart disease resulting from stress is heightened with age.

According to the National Institute on Aging, heart disease is a prime reason for the dwindling quality of life among seniors:

  • It can limit a person’s ability to have an active lifestyle
  • It may also cause certain disabilities
  • Arrhythmias, an age-related symptom, can cause irregularities in heartbeats (speeding up or slowing down, or irregular heartbeat)
  • Stress causes an increase in blood pressure and that causes a spike in the heart rate, forcing the heart to work harder

Prolonged exposure to stress can weaken heart muscles, resulting in loss of efficiency and may also contribute to heart failure.

Psychological effects of stress

Psychological, or mental, effects of stress are another aspect to consider with advancing age. When we are stressed, our brain is loaded with a higher concentration of stress hormones and that results in loss of concentration and attention, which can hamper decision making abilities. All of this impacts quality of life and can cause emotional symptoms of stress such as changes in mood.

Stress and Immune system

An aging body produces fewer white blood cells and killer ‘T’ cells, affecting both the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. This hampers the body’s ability to fight off infections.

Physical exercise – the key to stress management

Although physical exercise is the best way to stay fit and applies to people of all ages, seniors need some sort of physical activity to keep age-related health problems at bay.

Regular walks not only provide one with the opportunity to make it outdoors and breathe fresh air, particularly in the mornings, but also acts as a proven stress reliever. Just ten minutes of walking improves blood circulation and breathing.

Those seniors who feel up to the task can indulge in more rigorous activities like cycling and swimming. Again, proven stress relievers, such activities negate the effects of those things in life that cause stress in the first place, potentially helping you live longer and healthier.

Lifestyle changes to counter the effects of stress and advancing age

Incorporating some form of physical activity in one’s daily routine is the first step to healthier golden years, but certain lifestyle changes are also necessary such as:

  • Consulting a dietitian to ensure the inclusion of all essential nutrients in your food. A dietitian can also list out the food that needs to be avoided, given your specific health parameters.
  • Maintaining a positive outlook. Research from Yale University shows that seniors who live life positively and think positively about aging could outlive those who don’t share that same enthusiasm.
  • Staying close to friends and family is very useful in alleviating stress. An active, enjoyable social life can keep stress at bay.
  • Planning for emergencies in advance, be it health or finances, so that stress and worry don’t drag you down in times when you need help the most. It is advisable for senior citizens to make sure that they have signed up for an appropriate insurance plan; as medical coverage can help alleviatie some anxiety and concern about healthcare. You can visit our website to learn more about Medicare plans in California and be better prepared for health-related issues.

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Page last updated 10/12/2023

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