By Oliver Broudy
Last week we discussed one of the two ways the body reacts to stress, that was releasing a flood of hormones in the body. But there is another way the body reacts to stress. When stress is perceived by the brain it sends out a message to the body to release adrenaline. The adrenaline sets off a series of changes within the body. The heart rate increases and the blood flow shifts to supply more nutrients and oxygen to the heart and skeletal muscle. The blood pressure spikes to distribute the energy to the area where it is needed the most, while at the same time some blood vessels will constrict to increase the blood flow and oxygen to the vital organs.
Aging causes the body to be less resilient and that is why the body is slower to return to normal than in younger adults. An example is that it takes longer for the older body to return its temperature to normal again after being exposed to cold or heat for a long period of time. The same thing happens when the heart rate is increased and blood pressure rises, it takes an older person longer to relax.
Aging also causes the blood vessels to become more rigid. The rigidness does not allow the vessels to expand and contract, which aids the blood flow. Plaque is not removed as efficiently off of the vessel wall, it continues to build up and eventually causing atherosclerosis. The atherosclerosis restricts the blood flow. With the restriction or blockage of blood to the brain or heart, the risk of either stroke or heart attack rises drastically. The greater the atherosclerosis, the higher the risk of a fatality from either stroke or heart attack.
So how can the elderly battle this fight or flight reaction?
Simply put “USE YOUR MIND”.
Older adults have an advantage when battling this reaction because of acquired wisdom.
That wisdom includes noticing the early signs of stress patterns and acceptance. “Reframing” the perceived threat, (reducing it to a workable size) lowers the stress reaction. One study that had older adults participate in an eight-week course on mindfulness training, showed a 50% in the reduction of depression.