Stress. We all have it in one way or another. Some create it themselves, others were born into it through no fault of their own, and many don’t even know that they have it. Stress comes in many forms. Today we are going to talk about physical and mental stress. Both create the same hormonal response in the body. Elevated cortisol (known as the stress hormone) and adrenaline levels. Stress is something that isn’t considered enough in the health and fitness journey for most people. When someone decides that they want to lose some body fat they usually start to exercise, and/or work on their diet. Both of these are good places to start. But they are not the only pieces to the puzzle.
Lets talk about chronic stress a bit. First, what is chronic stress? To define that we need to quickly talk about the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems. Your sympathetic nervous system is what kicks in when you are running away from or towards something. It’s your “fight or flight” nervous system. Your para-sympathetic nervous system is what kicks in (hopefully) when you go to sleep, or get a massage, or go for a relaxing walk. Part of the problem these days is we have a lot of sympathetic going on. Long work days, emails coming in at all hours, credit card bills, late nights and early mornings, etc. Slowing down and relaxing just isn’t sexy right now.
When we are in chronic stress mode we have chronically elevate cortisol and adrenaline levels. Now cortisol and adrenaline are not bad hormones in and of themselves. If you are getting chased by a hungry bear, these hormones will speed up your heart rate, increase blood flow to all of your muscles which will literally make you stronger and faster, heighten your senses, and shut down all unnecessary bodily functions. All that matters in that moment is your “fight and/or flight.” But in chronic stress these hormones are leaking into your system all the time. So now you have chronically elevated levels of these hormones which leads to slower metabolism, increased inflammation, muscle loss, poor sleep quality, high blood pressure, more body fat, hair loss, and much, much more. If you look at those qualities separately, it sounds a lot like what most of us think is the natural down side of “getting old.” Weird…..
How many people do you know that say,” When I was younger I could eat whatever I wanted!” Or,”I used to be shredded!”, or even,” I used to sleep like a rock.” A statement like that is usually followed by ,”and then I turned (insert age here), sigh.” So, is it the fact that we got older, or is it the fact that we acquired more stress in our life? More responsibilities, more bills, more expectations, and less down time, less “play dates” with our friends, and usually less sleep. Those of you with kids will certainly know what I am talking about. I’m not saying that those of you without kids don’t have stress, but I honestly don’t think anyone will get it more then the mother and father of a new born baby. Not that I have one, mind you, but I’ve trained many people that have, and have seen the consequences. Never sleeping through the night, yet still having all of the responsibilities of new parents.
At this point you might be thinking ,”So you’re saying if I lower my stress levels I’ll get a faster metabolism, lower inflammation levels, gain muscle, sleep better, have lower blood pressure, less body fat, and even more hair?!”
Yes, that is what I’m saying. How do you do that? Well, I’ve been told that blogs need to stay below 750 words, and unfortunately I’m already at 625, and I don’t want to rob you of a well worded answer. 😉 So my next blog will be a list of several things that you can do to lower your stress levels. Some you may have heard of before, and some might be a surprise.
Something to think about: Do you remember when you slept the best? Or when you were your leanest and/or most muscular? When did that change? What else was going on in your life around that same time? Any new stresses? More responsibilities? Later nights?
Feel free to comment below, I would love to hear from you guys.