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

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 and 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.