A new analysis of health data on more than 24,000 people published in JAMA Network Open revealed that elevated stress levels were likely to increase the risk of cognitive decline — impacting memory, concentration, ability to reason, and other brain functions.

Previous research has established that chronic stress can wear a body down and have a negative impact on almost all aspects of health. With the brain in particular, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been associated with memory impairments and a reduction in the volume of the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory functions.

“Our study finds that even general stress can lead to cognitive decline,” says lead author Ambar Kulshreshtha, MD, an associate professor of preventive medicine and epidemiology at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“While eliminating stress is not always possible, we can learn to develop healthier responses to manage stress using some self-care,” says Dr. Kulshreshtha. Practicing mindfulness and prioritizing healthy lifestyle choices like staying active, getting good sleep, and socializing are all ways to cope with stress in constructive ways, he adds.

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