Some fitness bods fail to loose weight. The reason for this paradox? Stress hormones and maybe too much exercise. Some people run on stress all day, but what they don’t realise is that exercise is also a stress on the body, and causes it to produce the stress hormone cortisol. Normally, this is fine, provided there are also periods of rest. If, however, people have no downtime, levels of cortisol remain high, and that will affect your weight.
One of cortisol’s main functions is to help the body produce blood sugar from proteins and pour it into your bloodstream, providing energy for the “fight or flight” response. Any excess sugar is then used for fat production.
Research shows that people with high lifestyle stress will release more cortisol during an intense bout of exercise than someone who has a lower stress level. As well as causing fat gain, especially around the stomach, chronically elevated cortisol levels also lead to muscle loss, a less effective immune system and slower recovery from injury. Studies show that cortisol can even inhibit thyroid function. This lowers the metabolism, and can prevent weight loss and lead to weight gain. In addition, cortisol in the blood increases your appetite, particularly for carbohydrates, fat and sugar, which makes you lay down even more fat.
High cortisol levels also lead to restless sleep and without sufficient relaxation and sleep the body cannot produce enough growth hormone, which makes you leaner and stronger. Also many studies tie lack of sleep to obesity, at least partly due to the effects of the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which affect hunger and satiety. Lack of sleep means low leptin levels, which seems to have a role in hunger control, and an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger.
So what can we do about it?
Well everyone is different, but if you are highly stressed, the following could help.
Yoga is high up on the list of great stress busting, sleep aiding solutions. With a balanced session you can lower stress, reduce your heart rate, relax and aid your sleep, even becoming relaxed enough to bring your brain into a brain wave pattern found in deep sleep. At the same time you can also be stretching those hard worked muscles, overall having a strong, toned and flexible body. Combine this with practicing surrounded by the beauty of nature and its astounding stress lowering qualities and you are onto a great combination.
I’m not saying drop the gym, maybe just mix up your workouts. For every hard workout with strenuous cardio and weights, do two easy days, either resting or doing yoga or gentle walking in beautiful surroundings.
For me it’s not a prescription that has any jagged little pills and if nothing else I know I will feel absolutely great for doing it.