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Effects of a Stressful Lifestyle

Stress can contribute to a number of health conditions, including the common cold and obesity. Recent studies linked frequent stress to accelerating the aging process, even enhancing the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to researchers. American stress levels have increased within the past 30 years. Women reported an 18 percent increase in stress levels between 1983 and 2009, while men included in the Carnegie Mellon University study indicated a 24 percent increase during the same time period1.

Low to moderate levels of stress can be good for you if handled in a healthy manner. Unmanaged, extreme stress, however, can take a significant toll on your body. You heart begins to beat faster when faced with stress. As your blood pressure rises, cortisol levels in the blood stream increase. Cortisol manages fat storage in the body, how the body uses energy and helps with the development of short-term memories. As the hormone enters the brain after chronic, continued or extreme stress, it may start to kill vital cells.

Scientists at the University of Kuopio in Finland found participants with high blood pressure and high cortisol levels – symptoms of chronic stress – were three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those with other conditions2. Alzheimer’s, which affects 5.4 million patients and over 15 million unpaid caregivers, is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior and grows worse over time3. It accounts for 50 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Compared to middle-aged women who live worry-free lives, those who deal with chronic stress are 65 percent more likely to develop dementia4.

Stress can present as irritation, anxiety or even sleeping problems and manifests differently in each individual. To help reduce the risk of developing this aging issues or other health conditions influenced by stress – such as heart attack, high cholesterol, fatigue – consider these stress management tips from the American Psychological Association5:

Understand how you stress. Everyone experiences stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed? How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you do not feel stressed?

Identify your sources of stress. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family, health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else?

Learn your own stress signals. People experience stress in different ways. You may have a hard time concentrating or making decisions, feel angry, irritable or out of control, or experience headaches, muscle tension or a lack of energy. Gauge your stress signals.

Recognize how you deal with stress. Determine if you are using unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking, drinking alcohol and over/under eating) to cope. Is this a routine behavior, or is it specific to certain events or situations? Do you make unhealthy choices as a result of feeling rushed and overwhelmed?

Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities such as meditation, exercising or talking things out with friends or family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Don’t take on too much at once. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.

Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. Ensure you have a healthy mind and body through activities like yoga, taking a short walk, going to the gym or playing sports that will enhance both your physical and mental health. Take regular vacations or other breaks from work. No matter how hectic life gets, make time for yourself — even if it’s just simple things like reading a good book or listening to your favorite music.

Reach out for support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

More stress tips and information on aging conditions can be found at

Written by Leeann Garms _________________________________________________________________________________________________ [1]