By Mikayla Shelton, Maddy Gansman

BSN Students

University of Southern Indiana

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Effects of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can cause a variety of health problems, spanning from small issues to life-threatening diseases.  There are many steps that can be taken to alleviate stress.  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction exercise can help decrease the risk of developing certain diseases related to stress (Stults-Kolehmainen & Sinha, 2014).

     Stress is a common theme in the elderly population.  In the later years of life, things such as living situations, and normal every day activities become a source of stress because alterations need to be made due to new limitations.  New stressors for the elderly population may involve transportation and worrying how to get to and from their doctor appointments or the grocery store. In response to stress, people tend to participate in unhealthy behaviors.  This may include a poor diet.  Individuals experiencing stress may overeat or increase their caffeine consumption.  Emotional coping such as unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, increased smoking, and use of alcohol increase the risk for cardiovascular disease (Stutls-Kolehminen & Sinha, 2014).

When there is stress present, there is a decreased chance of performing any physical activity.  One study showed that when individuals are chronically stressed, such as caregivers or those with a cancer diagnosis, physical activity is performed infrequently.  This causes higher rates of obesity and results in increased healthcare costs. The more exercise an individual participates in directly correlates to lower stress levels in the body (Stults-Kolehmainen & Sinha, 2014)

Having chronic stress has also been identified as a cause of impaired immune function.  This damage has been shown to cause cells in the body to age faster.  Gallegos and her colleagues (2013) studied the effects of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program and how it relates to the function of the immune system and effect on the elderly. The study included 200 participants who were 65 years or older.  The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program was 8 weeks long and included a 7-hour intensive session and weekly 120-minute sessions.  Labs were drawn at the beginning of the session and at the end of the 8 weeks to look at the body’s immune function. The keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) shot was also given to test immunoglobulin levels.  KLH is a protein in the body used to make antibodies.  Each participant also logged how he or she felt during each session (Gallegos et al., 2013).

At the beginning and end of the study labs were drawn and analyzed to look at:

  • Interleukin-6 (IL-6) – This is activated when there is trauma in the body which leads to inflammation
  • Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) – This is a growth hormone that helps with growth cycles in the body
  • Immunoglobulin G (IgG) –This is an antibody that circulates in the body to help protect against foreign objects
  • Immunoglobulin M (IgM) –This is an antibody that circulates in the body to help protect against foreign objects

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program included:

  • Yoga
  • Body scan
  • Sitting meditation
  • Informal meditation

Changes in exercises were made to allow participation in the study for those with limited mobility (Gallegos et al., 2013).

At the end of the study IGF-1 levels significantly increased especially during yoga and sitting meditation. IL-6 levels stayed the same throughout the study for novice yoga participants.  However, it is possible that participating in yoga long term can potentially decrease IL-6 levels and eventually minimize the inflammatory process.  IgM and IgG levels increased during yoga, but surprisingly decreased during body scan exercises. The participants in the study believe that this may be due to the participants focusing on the pain and discomfort during the exercise, which could possibly result in low immunoglobulin levels.  Yoga was shown to increase positive affect of participants compared to other mindfulness-based exercises.  Participants who also practice yoga at home were shown to have an enhanced approach to handling and regulating their emotions.  Emotional aging is important for older adults to successfully improve their emotions by using advanced attention processes (Gallegos et al., 2013).





Mikayla Shelton BSN student

Maddy Gansman BSN student


Charlotte Connerton, EdD, MSN, RN, CNE

University of Southern Indiana College of Nursing and Health Professions








Gallegos, A. M., Hoerger, M., Talbot, N. L., Krasner, M. S., Knight, J. M., Moynihan, J. A., & Duberstein, P. R. (2013). Toward identifying the effects of the specific components of mindfulness-based stress reduction on biologic and emotional outcomes among older adults. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 19(10), 787-792.


Stults-Kolehmainen, M., & Sinha, R. (2014). The effects of stress on physical activity and

exercise. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 81-121.