Self-perceptions of ageing & stress have impact on physical health; Study

By Shilpa Annie Joseph, Desk Reporter
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According to a new study from Oregon State University (OSU), concentrating on the negative features of ageing can have a significant negative impact on your physical health and ability to cope with stress.

The research was published in the ‘Journals of Gerontology’. OSU researchers discovered that persons who reported more favorable self-perceptions of ageing were more insulated from the physical effects of stress than people who felt more adversely about their own ageing over a period of 100 days, based on daily survey data from older adults.

“Better self-perceptions of ageing are good for your health, regardless of how much stress you have, or how much stress you perceive you have,” said Ms. Dakota Witzel, lead author on the paper and a doctoral candidate in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Research on stress has long found that daily and chronic stress are linked to physical health symptoms, including higher blood pressure, heart disease, and loss of cognitive function. “These effects are linked not just to objective stress, but to perceived stress: people’s subjective appraisal of an experience as stressful,” according to the statement.

Using responses from 105 Oregon adults aged 52 to 88 who took part in daily online surveys in 2010 via OSU’s Personal Understanding of Life and Social Experiences (PULSE) study, researchers measured participants’ perceived stress and physical health over a period of 100 days, along with an initial set of questions to gauge their self-perceptions of ageing.

On average, higher perceived stress was related to worse self-perceptions of ageing and worse physical health symptoms, while more positive self-perceptions of ageing were related to fewer health symptoms.

On days when individuals with more negative self-perceptions of ageing reported more stress than normal, they reported almost three times more physical health symptoms than individuals with more positive self-perceptions of ageing. In other words, positive self-perceptions of ageing had a protective effect against the physical health implications of stress.

“This meant that thought patterns or conversations that reinforce or exaggerate various stereotypes of ageing physically impact people’s lives. These things are truly important for our health and well-being, not only long term but in our day-to-day life. The likelihood of reporting these physical health symptoms is significantly decreased, on average, when you have better self-perceptions of ageing,” Ms. Witzel noted.

As per the study, an easy step is to acknowledge that putting a positive spin on the ageing process will have a real impact on your physical health. That doesn’t mean adults should dismiss real health concerns or plaster on a fake smile, but they will see benefits if they consciously work to be more positive about ageing, she further added.

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