FRIDAY, Oct. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Men who consistently experience more than two stressful life events each year over an extended time period have a 50 percent higher mortality rate than their less-stressed peers, according to a new study.

Only three things seemed to help reduce the negative effects of this chronic stress: good health, marriage and the occasional drink.

"Being a teetotaler and a smoker were risk factors for mortality," lead study author, Carolyn Aldwin, a professor of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University, said in a university news release. "So perhaps trying to keep your major stress events to a minimum, being married and having a glass of wine every night is the secret to a long life."

The researchers examined stress patterns over the 18-year period from 1985 to 2003, and also documented stressors associated with older age groups, such as the loss of a spouse or coping with aging parents.

"Most studies look at typical stress events that are geared at younger people, such as graduation, losing a job, having your first child," Aldwin noted. "I modified the stress measure to reflect the kinds of stress that we know impacts us more as we age, and even we were surprised at how strong the correlation between stress trajectories and mortality was."

The study, published online in the Journal of Aging Research, surveyed nearly 1,000 middle- and working-class men in good health who originally had enrolled in the Boston VA Normative Aging Study in the 1960s.

Men who experienced an average of two or fewer major stressful life events per year were considered low-stress. Those in the moderate group had three major stressors while the men deemed as high-stress had up to six major life stressors each year.

The study found that the mortality risk for men in the moderate group was similar to that of the men in the high-stress group.

"It seems there is a threshold and perhaps with anything more than two major life events a year and people just max out," noted Aldwin in the release. "We were surprised the effect was not linear and that the moderate group had a similar risk of death to the high-risk group."

The authors noted that they also plan to investigate the effects of chronic daily stress as well as coping strategies.

"People are hardy, and they can deal with a few major stress events each year," concluded Aldwin. "But our research suggests that long-term, even moderate stress can have lethal effects."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine provides more information on stress.