Stress and aging: A neurovisceral integration perspective

Author: Julian F Thayer1, Mara Mather2,3, Julian Koenig4,5
1 Department of Psychological Science, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA.
2 Department of Psychology, Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
4 Section for Experimental Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Centre for Psychosocial Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.
5 University Hospital of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.
Conference/Journal: Psychophysiology
Date published: 2021 Mar 15
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1111/psyp.13804. , Word Count: 171

Darwin emphasized the intimate relationship between the brain and the heart over 150 years ago. Healthy aging is associated with significant changes in both the brain and the heart. The changes between these, the two most important organs of the body, are linked via the vagus nerve. In this review, we examine the normative changes with aging and the effect that stress may have on how the brain-heart connection changes with age. We provide a framework based on the concept of neurovisceral integration and propose that stress regulation is emotion regulation. As such, studies that have investigated emotion regulation may yield insights into successful stress regulation that helps protect people from age-related decline. In addition, interventions that improve brain health also improve heart health and vice versa. We conclude by noting that significant sex and ethnic differences exist but that future studies are needed to more fully explicate how they may moderate the associations between stress and aging.

Keywords: aging; amygdala; cortical thickness; heart rate variability; neurovisceral integration; stress.

PMID: 33723899 DOI: 10.1111/psyp.13804