Everyone knows eating fast food and skipping exercise for a sedentary lifestyle are both guaranteed tickets to poor health.
And while more people are beginning to get clued into the fact that chronic stress is just as bad, it’s a little bit of a harder sell when it comes to really addressing it for better health. For example, there’s a clear path towards adding more vegetables to your diet and committing to lacing up your running sneakers a few times a week, but if your job is driving you insane, quitting might not be an option.
RELATED: How Much Stress Is Too Much Stress?
We understand that and are not here to stress you out about stress. On the other hand, it helps to stay up on the many ways it does affect our lives so that when you’ve got the chance, you can start to prioritize de-stressing. (Consider this: If going to the gym SIX days a week is stressing you out because you have no time for grocery shopping or your family, maybe it’s a better plan to drop it to four days and lower your stress level!)
With that in mind, here are a few interesting new research findings on how stress could affect your health (and life).
3 New Stress Studies
1. Anticipating a Stressful Day Messes With Your Memory
Researchers at Penn State recruited 240 adults to participate in a two-week study. Participants answered questions in the morning about how how stressful they expected the day ahead to be and then reported their stress levels at five times throughout the day. They also completed a “working memory” task. While “working memory” might seem like a weird thing to measure, “A reduced working memory can make you more likely to make a mistake at work or maybe less able to focus,” one of the researchers told ScienceDaily.
The results showed a correlation between anticipation of a stressful day (more so than actual reported stress) and reduced working memory performance. In other words, the researchers believe expecting your day will be stressful might have the power to affect your brain, regardless of how stressful it actually ends up being. This is interesting because while it’s a super small study with limited findings, it adds to a large body of research on how stress impacts the brain in various ways.
2. Stressed mice live shorter lives
We already know that stress is a major contributor to inflammation in humans, which in turn can contribute to many life-shortening chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. This animal study showed “lifelong social stress” in mice was associated with a “shortened lifespan and increased the risk of cardiovascular disease.” Researchers say the finding is significant because it could be used to better understand the mechanisms behind stress-induced disease.
3. Stress alters gut bacteria
Speaking of animals, this one’s about hamsters. (Apparently they’re great test cases for stress studies because they “rapidly form dominance hierarchies.” Who knew?!) In the study, researchers essentially majorly stressed the hamsters out and sample their gut microbiota before and after. “We found that even a single exposure to social stress causes a change in the gut microbiota, similar to what is seen following other, much more severe physical stressors, and this change gets bigger following repeated exposures,” one of the scientists told Science Daily.
While it doesn’t mean every time you get into a fight your microbes will shift, it’s another piece of evidence to add to the pile of “how connected stress is to gut health,” and we all know how every day, we learn something new about how important gut health is to overall health.