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How your body changes with prolonged stress

The stress is one of the key factors that affect our health and, in turn, is one of the most elusive and difficult to handle: often comes imposed on us by conditions beyond our control and each person is affected differently.

This makes it difficult to determine exactly what the effects of stress on our body are. It would be necessary to follow a large group of people closely. measure their physical evolution and stress levels over a long period of time and rule out that any change in the first factor is caused by other reasons.

In 1967, a massive scientific study began in the United Kingdom that tried to analyze precisely that: how social conditions, including stress, affected the health and well-being of people. The Whitehall study was called, and to carry it out, 18,000 officials, all men, were recruited and followed up for 10 years.

A second phase, called Whitehall II, was carried out from 1985 to 1988, and 10,308 officials were analyzed, of whom two thirds were men and the rest were women. Now, a study has analyzed data from 2,000 of those volunteers to draw conclusions about how stress affects our body.

Stress and type of obesity

The body mass index , the relationship between the hip width and waist width and the height of the volunteers were measured at three different times over 10 years, as well as the cardiac variability ratio (changes over time). of the interval between heartbeat and heartbeat, associated with the physiological response to stress) and levels of psychological stress.

According to these observations over time, psychological stress is associated with an increased risk of developing obesity with a special widening of the waist. It is what is called android obesity or apple, as opposed to ginoid or pear obesity, in which the increase in volume is concentrated especially in the hips and thighs.

In turn, a high level of stress combined with low cardiac variability is associated with a greater risk of developing generalized corpulent obesity.

This, the study authors conclude, suggests that the levels of stress that we suffer in our lives serve to predict our bodily changes, to the point of what type of obesity we have more risk of developing.

The Whitehall studio

The first Whitehall study aimed to study the mortality ratios according to social strata in a group of men between 20 and 64 years old, and the volunteers were chosen within the body of British officials with the intention of avoiding the problems that supposed establish groups within the general population. For example, that within each stratum, the subjects were dedicated to different trades and industries and that affected their health.

The body of officials was, therefore, a good population from which to draw a sample: the labor strata were well defined but the work environments were, in general, the same.

The conclusions showed a great difference in terms of life expectancy according to the different social classes represented: lower-ranking officials (messengers, janitors) had mortality rates up to three times higher than those at the top of the hierarchy function, and that the differences increased in the same proportion as the distance between the two groups compared.

The status syndrome

In general, a lower status was associated with greater obesity, smoking, less free time and less physical activity such as leisure, more basic diseases and higher risk of hypertension, these factors only accounted for 40% of that difference, scientists proved.

The rest had to be due to other reasons. The authors proposed that one of them could be differences in control and support at work. In addition, blood pressure was associated with work stress , including the lack of use of personal skills, stress and lack of clarity in the tasks assigned.

From the Whitefall study, the so-called status syndrome was defined : the idea that, in developed societies, there are no two categories of health and well-being (worse for the poor, good for all others), but there is a progressive scale which indicates that a higher status, better health and life expectancy, caused by a series of social factors, within which stress plays a leading role.

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