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Physical Activity, Life Events Stress, Cortisol, and DHEA in Older Adults: Preliminary Findings that Physical Activity May Buffer Against the Negative Effects of Stress

Section: Original Research

Authors: Jennifer L.J. Heaney, Douglas Carroll, and Anna C. Phillips

Affiliations: School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, West Midlands, England, UK.

Acceptance Date: September 16, 2013

The present study examined the relationship between habitual physical activity, life events stress, the diurnal rhythms of cortisol and DHEA, and the cortisol: dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) ratio in older adults. Thirty six participants aged  ≥ 65  reported their habitual physical activity, and indicated if a particular event happened to them in the past year (stress incidence) and how stressful they perceived the event to be (stress severity).  Older adults with higher stress severity demonstrated a significantly higher cortisol:DHEA ratio.  Individuals with higher stress incidence scores, who did not participate in aerobic exercise had a significantly higher cortisol:DHEA ratio and flatter DHEA diurnal rhythm compared with those who regularly participated in aerobic exercise.  In conclusion, life events stress may have a negative impact on the cortisol:DHEA ratio in older adults. Under conditions of high stress exposure, exercise may protect older adults from an increased cortisol:DHEA ratio and flatter DHEA diurnal rhythm.

Keywords: Cortisol:DHEA ratio, diurnal, physical activity, life events stress, older adults

Authors: Jennifer L.J. Heaney

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