Physical activity, life events stress, cortisol, and DHEA in older adults: Preliminary findings that physical activity may buffer against the negative effects of stress

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The present study examined the relationship between habitual physical activity, life events stress, the diurnal rhythms of cortisol and DHEA, and the cortisol:dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) ratio in older adults. Thirty-six participants aged ≥ 65 reported their habitual physical activity, and indicated if a particular event happened to them in the past year (stress incidence) and how stressful they perceived the event to be (stress severity). Older adults with higher stress severity demonstrated a significantly higher cortisol:DHEA ratio. Individuals with higher stress incidence scores and who did not participate in aerobic exercise had a significantly higher cortisol:DHEA ratio and flatter DHEA diurnal rhythm compared with those who regularly participated in aerobic exercise. In conclusion, life events stress may have a negative impact on the cortisol:DHEA ratio in older adults. Under conditions of high stress exposure, exercise may protect older adults from an increased cortisol:DHEA ratio and flatter DHEA diurnal rhythm.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-473
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of aging and physical activity
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014


  • Cortisol:DHEA Ratio, Physical Activity, Life Events Stress, Older Adults