Written by Active Minds on Monday the 29th of February 2016.
We all know that stress isn’t good for us; from migraines to stomach aches, feeling worried or anxious has proven negative effects on our health. But recent studies by a team at the University of Toronto claim that, not only can stress have a negative impact on your physical health, it can also damage your mental health – including leading to the development of dementia.
In a paper that combined data from a number of studies into stress and the brain, the team concluded that long term or chronic stress can cause damage to the parts of the brain that are responsible for memory, thinking and emotions.
The research found that long periods of stress led to damage to the brain’s structures and affected the way the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex functioned. Since these areas of the brain are responsible for memory, reasoning, language and emotional responses, this damage can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
This is not to say, however, that feeling occasionally stressed or worried is going to cause Alzheimer’s later in life. The studies showed that damage most often occurs when a person is subject to long-term and ongoing stress on a daily basis, for example at work or due to private problems.
In more encouraging news, the researchers do not believe that such damage necessarily has to be permanent. It has been found that frequent exercise, physical activity and relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or breathing exercises can all help to kickstart healthy functioning and regeneration in the brain.
If you or a loved one are already living with dementia, you might find physical activity similarly helpful. Try incorporating a regular walk into your routine or a seated physical activity session if walking is not suitable. Ensuring you take part in regular exercise is crucial to keeping both bodies and minds healthy.