Life is full of stress. There are some reasons to believe that stress might reduce lifespan, being that the stress response leads to increased production of adrenaline and cortisol both of which have long term deleterious health consequences.
There is of course the alternate theory that low levels of continuous stress through hormesis actually protect the body against aging.
These theories were put to the test in a new study in the Journal of Aging Research. The study began with a cohort of about 1000 healthy middle aged men who were enrolled in a normative aging project in in 1985 and followed for 18 years.
The researchers than analyzed the presence and degree of stressful life events (SLEs) occurring in these mends lives as assessed by a questionnaire. They then looked for correlation between stress and mortality.
The findings were significant.
There were three groups – low stress (less than 2 SLEs per year), moderate (3 SLEs per year) ,and severe (more than 6 SLEs per year).
It turns out that the moderate and severe stress group had earlier deaths than the low stress group, and the moderate and high stress groups mortality were about equal.
“It seems there is a threshold and perhaps with anything more than two major life events a year and people just max out,” said lead author Carolyn Aldwin . “We were surprised the effect was not linear and that the moderate group had a similar risk of death to the high-risk group.”
“People are hardy, and they can deal with a few major stress events each year,” she added. “But our research suggests that long-term, even moderate stress can have lethal effects.”