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More stressful events lead to higher mortality rates in aging men

Heather Rudow October 21, 2011


Oregon State University researchers are encouraging middle-aged adults to start picking up techniques for stress reduction. Their new study concludes that men who experience persistently moderate or high levels of stressful life events have a 50 percent higher mortality rate than those who do not experience persistent stress.

The study targeted stressful life events that typically impact the aging population, such as the death of a spouse or moving a parent into a nursing home. The research consisted of 1,000 middle-class and working-class men who were surveyed between 1985 and 2003.

“Most studies look at typical stress events that are geared at younger people, such as graduation, losing a job, having your first child,” researcher Carolyn Aldwin said. “I modified the stress measure to reflect the kinds of stress that we know impacts us more as we age, and even we were surprised at how strong the correlation between stress trajectories and mortality was.”

The men in the low stress group experienced two major life events or less each year. The “moderate” group usually experienced around three, and the high-stress group experienced up to six. However, the study found that that mortality rate was the same for the moderate group and the high-stress group.

“It seems there is a threshold and perhaps with anything more than two major life events a year and people just max out,” Aldwin said. “We were surprised the effect was not linear and that the moderate group had a similar risk of death to the high-risk group.”

However, factors such as good health, moderate drinking and marriage appeared to be positive factors for the men’s mortality rates.

“Being a teetotaler and a smoker were risk factors for mortality,” Aldwin said. “So perhaps trying to keep your major stress events to a minimum, being married and having a glass of wine every night is the secret to a long life.”

On a related note, Counseling Today‘s November cover story, “Life on overload,” examines how counselors can help clients better manage stress and anxiety in their lives.

Source: Oregon State University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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