For the study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers at Concordia University examined changes to self-esteem within an individual’s lifespan.
The researchers, graduate student Sarah Liu and Dr. Carsten Wrosch from Concordia University’s Centre for Research in Human Development, found that if a person’s self-esteem decreased, the stress hormone cortisol increased — and vice versa.
This association was particularly strong for those who already had a history of stress or depression, the researchers noted.
The research team met with 147 adults aged 60 and over to measure their cortisol levels, self-esteem, stress, and symptoms of depression every 24 months over four years. Self-esteem was measured through standard questions, such as whether the participant felt worthless, the researchers explained.
The study also took into account personal and health factors like economic status, whether the participant was married or single, and mortality risk.
The study’s findings showed that maintaining or improving self-esteem could help prevent health problems.
“Because self-esteem is associated with psychological well-being and physical health, raising self-esteem would be an ideal way to help prevent health problems later in life,” said Liu.
Steps seniors can take to boost self-esteem include going out and making more friends, which is often easier said than done, Liu admitted. But it pays off, she noted.
“Improving self-esteem provides real health benefits in seniors,” she said. “The ultimate solution may be to prevent self esteem from declining.”
While this study looked at cortisol levels, Liu noted that future research could examine immune function to further illuminate how increases in self-esteem can contribute to patterns of healthy aging.
Source: Concordia University