On the journey to losing weight and reducing centimetres off the often dreaded mid region, one factor that is regularly overlooked is stress levels. It is important that we have ways in which we can effectively manage our stress levels. Stress is a process controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, which is part of your neurology that gears us ready for a "challenging" situation.
Stress is characterised by many in modern times as a by-product of fast-paced modern lifestyle, however this innate response has been crucial in mankind's survival since dawn of time, long before complex technologies and big tall buildings. Back in prehistoric times of our ancestors, the stress response was simply put a "fight-or-flight" response that prepared us to either stand and fight a life threatening situation or run away from it. Stresses or challenging situations we face this day and age may not be threatening to our very own lives, though the response in the human body remains the same.
In today's society we are very seldom put in scenarios where immediate physical reactions are a must for our continued existence, for example being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger. "Dangers" faced in modern life are of much less immediate nature and often last over a period of time, chasing a pending deadline, traffic jams, or simply squeezing out enough hours from a day to tackle everything that needs to be done. Thusly, our bodies are increasingly remaining in a prolonged state of stress.
When stress is triggered, there are several physiological responses by the body. When faced with a challenging or a stressful situation, the body has an ability to release essential hormones and vitamins to aid us in performing at our peak when we need defence/protection. It temporarily gives our bodies "superhuman" powers to give us an edge in case of an immediate danger. However, at the same time the effect of these hormones can potentially have an adverse effect on weight loss!
Hormones released in stressful situations:
Produced by the adrenal glands after the brain indicates the presence of an immediate danger, this hormone is responsible for the "energy rush" or the "buzz" that we experience as it is generated, it increases blood flow to muscles, output of the heart, pupil dilation and blood sugar.
Produced by the adrenal glands and the brain, this hormone has similar effects to that of Adrenaline such as increased heart rate and breathing rate as well as heightened mental alertness. Noradrenaline also helps influence blood flow away from non-essential functions in an event of a stressful situation such as digestion, this allows for greater supply of oxygen being available to muscles and other "fight-or-flight" functions in the body.
Cortisol is the first hormone that comes to mind when thinking of stress, after all it is often called the "stress hormone" for a reason. It is also produced by the adrenal glands, though it's effects are not as immediate as Adrenaline or Noradrenaline and takes longer to kick in and it also stays in the body for a longer period of time. Cortisol helps to maintain essential functions in the body, such as blood pressure and fluid balance during stressful situations as well as regulating non-essential functions, it also increases blood glucose. Presence of Cortisol in the body impedes weight loss as it promotes increase in blood sugar levels, correspondingly this result in release of insulin. Insulin encourages fat storage and heavily slows down fat burning!
Cortisol has also been shown to increase leptin resistance, leptin is a hormone released by fat cells to inform the brain we have had enough food, giving us the feeling of satiety.
It is important for general wellbeing and of course, weight management, that we have the ability to effectively control stress levels. This will allow us to minimise some of the adverse effects of hormones released by it. Study where more than 500 participants were involved, published in the International Journal of Obesity, people attempting to shred at least 10 pounds off their frame were more likely to reach their goal if they had lower stress levels and slept more than six hours. In addition, participants who kept more food records were more likely to lose weight. In another study conducted by University of Canterbury, high levels of stress were linked to weight gain. It was concluded that stress-reduction techniques and coping strategies were important for weight management. Therefore, knowing and implementing strategies and techniques to combat higher stress levels is quite important. Stress can never be completely eliminated from our lives but it can be controlled through lifestyle choices, nutrition and Fitness!!
Stay tuned for part 2, where we will look into techniques and strategies to minimise, control and manage stress!!
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