Everyone deals with stress and with the negative impact it has on the body. However, according to Harvard Medical School, individuals have a more difficult time coping with stress as they age. Fortunately, there are measures older adults can take to manage stress and its impact on the body.
Before we look at ways to reduce stress, let’s define stress and its effects on a person.
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to a stressor or other stimulus that disturbs a person’s physical or mental equilibrium. It’s commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. It may have served our ancestors well as they struggled to survive dangerous situations, but, for many in today’s hectic world, living in a constant “fight or flight” mode can have damaging health effects.
Detrimental Impact of Stress
Stress wreaks havoc on the mind and body. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, up to 80% of doctor appointments may be related to stress. The American Psychological Association backs this statement up with one of their own indicating that chronic stress is linked to six leading causes of death including heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver, accidents, suicide and cancer. According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the effects of psychological stress affects the body’s ability to regulate inflammation which can promote the development and progression of disease.
Chronic stress can:
- Reduce your immune response affecting your ability to heal
- Cause blood sugar imbalances
- Raise blood pressure
- Cause elevated levels of bad cholesterol
- Increase fat deposits around your mid-section associated with heart attacks and strokes
- Decrease muscle tissue and bone density
- Suppress thyroid function
- Affect the functioning of your brain
With all of this in mind, let’s look at ways an older adult can address the issue of stress in their lives.
Ways to Reduce Stress
Now that we understand just how important it is to get stress under control, let’s look at ways that this can be accomplished.
Mindfulness is an excellent practice to help a person deal with stress in their life. Many people fret over the past or worry about the future, often robbing themselves of the present. This constant psychological turmoil causes undue stress. Mindfulness eases this stress by focusing on the present moment and what it has to offer.
Other benefits of mindfulness include:
- Hones your innate ability to focus
- Helps you cope with physical and mental pain
- Reduces brain chatter
- Helps you connect better with others
Although most stress originates in the brain, physical exercise can play a part in reducing stress by favorably impacting brain health.
According to a study conducted at the University of Illinois, older adults who completed a walking regimen over a one year period saw a two percent increase in the size of their hippocampus. The hippocampus, which is the part of the brain where memory storage and new learning take place, is the first part of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s. This further makes the case to include exercise in your stress reduction routine.
However, as we get older our bodies will sometimes respond differently to exercise than it once did. To prevent injury and added stress to joints, choose low-impact exercises that get your heart rate up. Low-impact exercises to consider include walking, swimming, water aerobics, resistance band training and chair exercises.
“Body manipulation” exercises are another great choice. Although these exercises are characterized by subtle movements, they can still have a major impact on your body and your stress levels. Body manipulation exercises include yoga, tai chi, reiki, massage and craniosacral therapy.
When all is said and done, the best exercise routine is one that you enjoy and are willing to stick to on a regular basis. Remember to start slow, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your workouts. Finally, don’t forget to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A poor diet, lacking nutritional density, can put stress on the body. In turn, stressful situations can cause overeating, which can lead to a never-ending cycle of poor eating habits. To stop this detrimental stress cycle in its tracks, make sure to eat a diet filled with nutritionally dense foods. A healthy diet includes foods that are low in carbohydrates, low in sugar and high in healthy, saturated fats. Eating this way will get you to naturally cut sugar out of your diet which can help prevent stress, anxiety, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
If you focus on protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables you will provide your body and brain with the building blocks needed to function optimally and to fight off disease.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
For various reasons, older adults will sometimes isolate themselves and have less social interactions with others. This is unfortunate because social engagement is an essential component of successful aging. It’s critical that older adults find ways to remain active socially and cultivate warm and caring relationships with others.
With technology, staying connected with others is easier than it has ever been. Enjoy conversations with family and friends more fully through the use of Skype. Keep in touch with what’s going on in other people’s lives through Facebook. (Be sure to avoid the drama that can be found there, otherwise, you’ll be increasing your stress levels!)
Join your local senior center. Become involved in clubs that specialize in a hobby or interest you enjoy. Take a class at your local community college. Make a difference in your life and in the lives of others through volunteer activities.
Final Thoughts on Reducing Stress
Put these tips into action to reduce the stress that is robbing you of the joy in your life. The effects of stress can add up over time and when left unchecked can have devastating effects on your life. Thankfully, taking small steps to reduce stress can add up over time too! The longer you work at relieving your stress the better off you’ll be.
At Parc Place, we understand the benefits of living a stress-free lifestyle; therefore, we strive to create a peaceful environment that focuses on keeping residents healthy and engaged. If you have any questions, please contact us. And remember, there’s no better time to take steps to reduce stress in your life than right now.