Stress and Cortisol
The stress hormone, Cortisol, is public health enemy number one. Elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease… The list goes on and on. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy.
Cortisol is released in response to fear or stress by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism in our bodies. Once the alarm to release Cortisol has sounded, your body becomes mobilized and ready for action..but there has to be a physical release of fight or flight. Otherwise, Cortisol levels build up in the blood which wreaks havoc on your mind and body. Distress or Anxiety doesn’t provide an outlet for the Cortisol and causes the fight-or-flight mechanism to backfire. Fear also increases Cortisol. Regular physical activity will decrease fear by increasing your self-confidence, resilience which will reduce Cortisol. Yoga will have similar benefits with added benefits of mindfulness training.
Most people admit that when they’re under stress, healthy eating habits can be difficult to maintain. Whether eating to fill an emotional need or grabbing fast food simply because there’s no time to prepare something healthy.. a stressed out lifestyle is rarely a healthy one. Excess Cortisol is secreted during times of physical or psychological stress causing the normal pattern of cortisol secretion (with levels highest in the early morning and lowest at night) to be altered. This disruption of cortisol secretion may not only promote weight gain, but it can also affect where you put on the weight. Some studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat depositing in the abdominal area rather than in the hips.
Here are some simple steps that will reduce stress, anxiety and lower your Cortisol levels:
- Regular Physical Activity : Kick Boxing or a Punching Bag are terrific ways to recreate the “fight” response by letting out aggression and reducing Cortisol. Any Aerobic activity, like walking, jogging, swimming, biking.. are great ways to recreate the ‘flight’ outlet and burn-up cortisol. A little bit of Cardio goes a long way. Just 20-30 minutes of activity most days of the week pays huge dividends by lowering cortisol every day. No time in your busy schedule? An easy way to guarantee regular activity is to build inadvertent activity into your daily routine. Try things like riding a bike to work, walking to the store, taking the stairs instead of the escalator… These all add up to a cumulative tally of reduced cortisol at the end of the day.
- Meditation : Any type of Meditation will reduce anxiety and lower Cortisol levels. Simply taking a few deep breaths triggers a signal within your nervous system to slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease Cortisol. The next time you feel yourself in a stressful situation that activates your ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response take 10 deep breaths and feel your entire body relax and decompress.
- Fun and Laughter : Having fun and laughing reduces Cortisol levels.
- Music : Listening to Music that you love, and fits whatever mood you’re in, has been shown to lower Cortisol levels.
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