October Healthy Aging Public Lecture to focus on daily stress, health

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging will host “The Speedometer of Life: Daily Stress, Health and Well-Being,” at 6 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Dreibelbis Auditorium at Mount Nittany Medical Center. The presentation is part of the center’s 2014 Healthy Aging Public Lecture Series.

David Almeida, professor of human development and family studies in the College of Health and Human Development, will address daily experiences and their influence on health, and how daily stress can accumulate over time and across different situations to affect a person’s health and the health of his or her family.

"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," Almeida said. "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. "

Using a subset of people who are participating in the MIDUS (Midlife in the United States) study, a national longitudinal study of health and well-being that is funded by the National Institute on Aging, Almeida and his colleagues investigated the relationships among stressful events in daily life, people's reactions to those events, and their health and well-being 10 years later.

Specifically, they surveyed by phone 2,000 individuals every night for eight consecutive nights regarding what had happened to them in the previous 24 hours. They asked the participants questions about their use of time, their moods, the physical health symptoms they had felt, their productivity and the stressful events they had experienced, such as being stuck in traffic, having an argument with somebody or taking care of a sick child.

"Most social-science surveys are based on long retrospective accounts of your life over months or maybe years," Almeida said. "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."
 
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.

According to Almeida, certain types of people are more likely to experience stressors in their lives. Younger people, for example, have more stressors than older people; people with higher cognitive abilities have more stressors than people with lower cognitive abilities; and people with higher levels of education have more stressors than people with less education.

"What is interesting is how these people deal with their stressors," Almeida said. "Our research shows that older people age 65 and up tend to be more emotionally reactive to stressors than younger people, likely because they aren't exposed to a lot of stress at this stage in their lives, and they are out of practice in dealing with it. Younger people are better at dealing with it because they cope with it so frequently. Likewise, our research shows that people with lower cognitive abilities and education levels are more reactive to stress than people with higher cognitive abilities and education levels, likely because they have less control over the stressors in their lives."

While stressors may be an indication that a person's life is filled with hardship, it could also simply mean that the person is engaged in a wide variety of activities and experiences, Almeida said.

"If this is the case, reducing exposure to stressors isn't the answer," Almeida said. "We just need to figure out how to manage them better."

The Healthy Aging Lecture Series is a community partnership developed and sponsored by the Penn State Center for Healthy Aging, The Village at Penn State, Mount Nittany Medical Center, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State, Foxdale Village and Home Instead Senior Care.

For more information on the Center for Healthy Aging, visit healthyaging.psu.edu.

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Last Updated January 09, 2015