Financial Stress May Accelerate Mental & Physical Aging, Study Shows

mbg Beauty and Lifestyle Senior Editor By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty and Lifestyle Senior Editor
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty and Lifestyle Senior Editor. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.

Image by Milles Studio / Stocksy

We know that financial anxiety is a real concern for most adults. As we've learned in this report and the American Psychiatric Association's most recent annual poll, two concerns tied for first place of what we are most anxious about: keeping our families safe and finances, which 66% of Americans reported they were somewhat or very anxious about. These topped health, politics, and relationships with friends and co-workers.

Well, according to new research, severe financial anxieties have a pretty serious side effect: accelerated aging. A study recently published in the European Journal of Aging suggests that individuals who spend at least four years going through economic hardship showed signs of faster aging compared to their more economically stable counterparts. These signs included poorer cognitive function at an earlier age and higher rates of inflammation in the body, as seen through markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) and IL-6. (And we also know from previous research that inflammation in the body leads to a plethora of issues from physical diseases to mental health issues, like worsened depression and low motivation.)

The researchers from the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark classified economic hardship by those with a "relatively low income," which in this case meant individuals with incomes 60% less than the national average across 22 years. Over the long-term study, which took place between 1987 and 2008, the researchers monitored over 5,000 middle-age adults. Of that population, 18% of them endured economic hardships for at least four years or longer. Throughout, they analyzed both cognitive and physical function—including chair rise, grip strength, jump, and balance—and those who experienced long periods of relative poverty performed worse.

Also interesting: When an individual experienced financial hardships also had a strong impact on their aging. The individuals who might have experienced issues early on in life were not affected in the same way as those who experienced poverty later in life; this was especially true for individuals entering financial difficulties later in life due to job termination, as the study notes that was a significant contributing factor.

But, we should note, the study did not look into confounding factors that could have accelerated signs of aging, like diseases often associated with poorer populations. And it should be said this only studied the Danish population, so other crucial cultural-specific aspects (like universal health care or lack thereof) can't be taken into account when applying to other populations.

But in the end, this only further highlights how damaging financial stress can be on the body and mind.

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