Harvard Health Letter

How stress affects seniors, and how to manage it

Exercise, breathing techniques, and medication can help you manage stress as you get older.

friends walking reducing stress exercising
Image: moldboard/Thinkstock

We all experience a little stress from time to time. It's not so hard to handle when we're young. But as we age, coping with stress isn't as easy anymore. "We tend to have less resilience to stress, and older adults often find that stress affects them differently now," says Dr. Michelle Dossett, an internal and integrative medicine specialist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.

Changes in response

What's different about coping with stress when we're older? "Our cells are aging. Heart fitness and lung capacity decline, especially if you're sedentary," says Dr. Dossett. That keeps us from adequately accommodating the body's natural stress response (see "What does stress do to your body?").

If you have a chronic disease, which is already a burden on the body, it's even harder to bounce back physically from the toll the stress response takes.

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