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.
Heaney, Carroll, and Phillips are with the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, West Midlands, England, UK.