Now more than ever we are stressed-out! Constantly high levels of stress can have negative consequences physically and mentally, leading to burnout and decreased motivation.
Stress wreaks havoc on our bodies by causing chronically elevated levels of cortisol. To be clear, short term releases of cortisol are okay. In fact, this can happen when we stress the body during exercise, leading to small peaks of cortisol post workout. This stress stimulates HGH (human growth hormone) and HSL (hormone sensitive lipase) which actually accelerates fat burning.
However, we get into trouble when those levels remain elevated due to stress in our everyday lives. This can increase LPL (lipoprotein lipases), a major fat-storing enzyme. When LPL is increased, cortisol’s effect on HSL is also decreased. Fat storage increases and fat burning decreases, resulting in the opposite effect most people desire.
Now, let’s be real. We have all dug into a pint of Haagen-Dazs after a rough day. That’s a completely human response to stress. Elevated cortisol levels trigger hunger and cravings, and sometimes we just need to give in to them. Other times, we can try a different way to manage stress. Your body sends major signals when it’s feeling stressed and it is our responsibility to listen to these signals and respond accordingly. So, what else can we do?
- LISS (Low-intensity Steady State) – Simply put, go for a walk. Walking has been proven to decrease those unnecessarily high cortisol levels, especially when done outside. Throw on your favorite tunes, podcast, or audiobook, and try this low-key, stress-reducing cardio.
- Yoga – Yoga is exceptionally good for cortisol levels and not just because of the soothing sounds and quiet room. Yoga helps muscles recover from intense workouts, reducing the possible downsides of overtraining.
- Mindfulness – Stress often comes from facing life’s challenges and feeling overwhelmed by their impact. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness such as identifying what you are grateful for helps to reduce the adverse effects of these challenges. Finding something good in each day can be as simple as a cup of hot coffee or the sun when it shines.
- Slow down – There is nothing wrong with taking an afternoon off once in a while to crash on the couch and catch up on your favorite TV show or movie. Turn off your phone, put the computer (and iPad) away and just veg out.
- Sleep – One of the number one causes of elevated cortisol levels is lack of sleep. This is often caused by stress triggers, so really, it’s a giant vicious cycle. Try darkening the room, setting up downtime on the phone to lock you out of apps at a certain time (no more mindless scrolling before bed), and invest in blue light glasses. Blue light from laptops, cell phones, and TV screens can disrupt melatonin production and have a negative impact on sleep. Wearing blue light glasses can protect you from this effect.
- Whatever makes you happy – Spend an hour doing YOU. Do a puzzle, read a book, something! A lot of stress comes from not making time for ourselves, so make sure to carve an hour or two out a day just for you. This will also make you more present during the other hours of the day.
When it comes to chasing fitness goals, don’t forget about stress. Nutrition and exercise are important, of course, but there is more to consider when approaching a health and wellness change such as stress which has a direct impact on our efforts and results.