The relaxation response: reducing stress and improving cognition in healthy aging adults

Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2006 Aug;12(3):186-91. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2006.02.004. Epub 2006 Jun 5.


Aging adults are vulnerable to the effects of a negative emotional state. The relaxation response (RR) is a mind-body intervention that counteracts the harmful effects of stress. Previous studies with relaxation techniques have shown the non-pharmacological benefit of reducing stress and improving the memory of healthy older adults. Our pilot study evaluated whether a RR training program would decrease anxiety levels, improve attention, declarative memory performance and/or decrease salivary cortisol levels in healthy older adults. Fifteen adults participated and were randomly assigned to a RR training or control groups. Mean age was 71.3 years and mean education level was 17.9 years. Reaction time on a simple attention/psychomotor task was significantly improved (p<0.0025) with RR training, whereas there was no significant improvement on complex tasks of attention, verbal, or visual declarative memory tests. Self-reported state anxiety levels showed a marginally significant reduction (p<0.066). All subjects' salivary cortisol levels were within low-normal range and did not significantly change. Our 5-week program in highly educated, mobile, healthy, aging adults significantly improved performance on a simple attention task.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Mind-Body Relations, Metaphysical
  • Pilot Projects
  • Reaction Time
  • Reference Values
  • Relaxation / physiology*
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*


  • Hydrocortisone