Original article| Volume 24, ISSUE 1, e43-e52, January 2014

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Stress, Lifestyle, and Quality of Life in Midlife and Older Australian Women: Results From the Stress and the Health of Women Study



      Chronic psychological stress may pose a serious threat to health, although the mechanisms are not fully understood. This study examines the impact of stress on modifiable lifestyle factors, depressive symptoms, health-related quality of life (HRQOL) and chronic illness in older Australian women.


      Cross-sectional data were collected from a random sample of 181 older adults aged 60 to 70 years from rural and urban areas of South-East Queensland, Australia. We used structural equation modelling to examine associations between stress, modifiable lifestyle factors, HRQOL, and chronic illness.


      Parameter estimates show that older women who reported life stressors where they felt helpless and feared for their life (high-magnitude stressors) also reported higher body mass index (p = .03) and more chronic illness (p < .01). In contrast, duration of exposure to life stressors was associated with higher depressive symptom scores (Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale; p = .02) and sleep disturbance scores (p < .01).


      Our findings support the link between traumatic personal histories (exposure to high-magnitude stressors) and unhealthy lifestyle factors. Findings highlight the need for more research on how stress reduction, a healthy lifestyle, and positive coping strategies can be used to reduce the effects of high-magnitude stress on HRQOL and chronic illness.
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      Charrlotte Seib, PhD, is an early career researcher (ECR) in the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Her primary interest is on the impact of stress on women's health and wellbeing.


      Eliza Whiteside, PhD, is an ECR in the field of biochemistry, cell and molecular biology. Her primary focus is on the effects of altered hormonal milieu on breast cell biology and subsequent breast cancer development.


      Kathryn Lee, RN, CBSM, PhD, FAAN, is a Professor of Nursing, Associate Dean for Research, and the James and Marjorie Livingston Endowed Chair in the Department of Family Health Care Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco.


      Janice Humphreys, PhD, RN, FAAN, is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Duke University School of Nursing. Her research focuses on the health effects of intimate partner violence on women and their children.


      Tiet Hanh Dao Tran, MN, is a PhD student within the Women's Wellness Research Program at QUT. Her research focuses on cross-cultural differences in women's health following exposure to stressful life experiences.


      Lisa Chopin, PhD, is an Associate Professor and the Ghrelin Group Leader within the Cells and Tissues Domain at QUT. Her interests include ghrelin function and signalling mechanisms and the role of the ghrelin axis in breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.


      Debra Anderson, PhD, is a Professor in Nursing, Director of Research, and the Director of the Women's Wellness Research Program at QUT. Her primary focus is in the development, implementation and evaluation of interventions to promote women's health.