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Study shows correlation between high to moderate stress and premature death



With two more days of traditional week five midterms, many students who still have exams can be seen in study rooms, lounge areas and quiet sections with laptops and books in tow as they glance through slide shows, type up papers and quiz their fellow classmates.

One of those students is Dakota Kendall,@@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=student&d=person&b=name&s=Dakota+Kendall@@ a freshman sports business student who is studying for her business and sports midterm that is planned for the following day.

“Because I have multiple midterms in one day, it’s really hard to study for them all at once, especially when the classes are so different,” she said, taking a break from studying. “But I’m not one to get stressed at all; I kind of just deal with it and am not one of those people who go crazy about it.”

For those who share her perspective, this may actually be a positive quality. According to a study conducted by Carolyn Aldwin, a Oregon State University human development and family sciences professor,@@http://health.oregonstate.edu/people/aldwin-carolyn@@ individuals with consistently moderate- or high-stress levels over time were found to be about 50 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who had less stress or who were perceived to have had less stress.

“It is chronic stress that has serious health implications,” Aldwin said in a recorded interview with Oregon State University.

The study, which only observed men, also found that those who over time reported moderate-stress levels consistently had similar early mortality risks as those who reported having high-stress lives and were more likely to die over the course of 20 years. But the news isn’t all bad.

“The good news is that there’s no strong association between just having one problem and premature mortality,” Aldwin said. “Most people are pretty hearty.”

The study — the first of its kind to show a direct link between stress over a period of years and mortality rates as people age — was compiled by analyzing 18 years worth of data between 1985 to 2003 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair’s Normative Aging Study. Aldwin said this particular study originally consisted of 2,280 men who underwent physical examinations every three to five years and answered specific health behavior questionnaires, but her study ultimately ended up analyzing data from nearly 1,000 men from middle- and working-class backgrounds.

To protect against an early death due to stress, Aldwin identifies several factors that seems to mollify the risk, such as abstaining from smoking, being married and retaining drinking to moderate levels.

“How you cope with stress is more important than actually experiencing a stressor,” Aldwin said. “If you try to regulate your emotions, make a plan of action and talk to people when you need to — that tends to alleviate the effects of stress. However, if you try to go on a binge, go around hating everybody or think that your life is never going to be better, then this is going to make it worse.”

Aldwin also said the way in which people perceive problems in their everyday life is much more important than how people should cope with stress, because addressing and prioritizing issues beforehand can affect the stress that people ultimately take on.

“If you allow yourself to get really upset about relatively trivial or moderate problems, that’s going to take a toll on you,” Aldwin said. “Not appraising problems as stressful is probably even better than having good coping strategies.”

Philip Fisher,@@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=staff&d=person&b=name&s=Philip+Fisher@@ the director of the University’s Stress Neurobiology and Prevention Research Laboratory, agrees and suggests that young adults should learn coping mechanisms at a early age to prevent adverse affects to their mental and physical health as they age.

“To the extent that there’s a lot of stress early on,” he said. “A lot of things are learned but become pretty well-formed patterns and (are) very hard to change over as a child segues into adulthood.”


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