Study pinpoints strategies that protect older adult's physical health

Jun 12, 2008

In his famous poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night," Dylan Thomas urges us to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Researchers are now backing up this counsel in the lab; showing just how "raging" against threats to one's health is critical to good health and survival in late life.

The existing research on longevity supports the notion that one should become actively involved in one's health in an effort to prevent further decline. The elderly are urged to use "active control strategies" aimed at counteracting physical threats. Such strategies include investing time and energy in dealing with even minor health issues, seeking help when health problems are encountered, and believing that one can overcome health problems when they arise.

Carsten Wrosch of Concordia University in Montreal and Richard Schulz of the University of Pittsburgh decided to look at the long-term health impacts of these strategies. They studied elderly participants' report of daily physical symptoms (e.g., chest pain or difficulty breathing) and any subsequent (2 years later) presence of severe chronic diseases (e.g., arthritis or cancer,) and functional limitations (e.g., difficulty dressing) all the while keeping track of who was actively engaging themselves in their health.

The results, appearing in the June issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science are revealing. Among older adults who experienced many daily physical symptoms, those who did not invest in counteracting these challenges developed approximately one additional chronic health problem and one additional functional limitation two years later. In contrast, no physical health declines were observed among older adults who were actively engaged in overcoming these health threats.

The researchers also found that the effect on changes in chronic health problems were partly mediated by an impaired diurnal cortisol rhythm, a biological process that is widely thought to be a key factor in the association between stressful experiences and physical health problems, in older adults.

The authors note that these active control strategies may not be as effective when used in the later stages of physical decline and that these findings point to a small window of opportunity in postponing long-term health declines and mortality. Wrosch and Schulz suggest that the use of these strategies can protect older adults' physical health, in part by preventing the failure of important biological systems that are particularly important in the early stages of physical decline in older individuals.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Explore further: Depression, suicide and the workplace - Q&A

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Women still find it tough to reach the top in science

Mar 24, 2015

Women are playing an increasing role in science today but there are still barriers that can prevent them from achieving success comparable to their male colleagues. This feeds the argument that there is a ...

Economists count true business costs of climate change

Mar 19, 2015

A new report, prepared with researchers in our Department of Economics for leading social housing provider Aster Group, urges businesses to consider the true financial costs of climate change in order to ...

Calorie-burning vest makes use of cold exposure

Feb 12, 2015

"Give fat the cold shoulder." That is the catchy advice in a video of a scientist who believes he is on to something to support weight loss, and that is The Cold Shoulder calorie-burning vest. Dr. Wayne B. ...

Recommended for you

Depression, suicide and the workplace - Q&A

Mar 27, 2015

Expert opinions on the potential link between depression and the suspected mass murder-suicide of a Germanwings co-pilot who flew an Airbus into the French Alps Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board:

Study adds evidence on link between PTSD, heart disease

Mar 26, 2015

In a study of more than 8,000 veterans living in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, those with posttraumatic stress disorder had a nearly 50 percent greater risk of developing heart failure over about a seven-year ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.