“If stress burned calories, I would indulge in the sweetest delights.”
The start of the New Year undoubtedly begins with the proclamation of resolutions. The most common of resolutions are our engagement in self-conversations surrounding our own health. For many, this will translate into resolutions of weight loss and the ever burdening weight management.
We are very aware that healthy weight management is imperative for our overall health status and pertinent to reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and more recently Alzheimer’s disease.
The path of least resistance to improve health requires good dietary and lifestyle habits, however our day to day struggle with weight and the yearly resolutions of trying to lose weight remind us that it’s just not that simple.
Can a particular lifestyle factor potentially be an important underlying cause to weight gain?
To date there are numerous studies that detail the impact of chronic stress and the inability to lose weight. This data is applicable to a generalizable population and particularly to business owners and executives where performance pressure and stress are at optimal levels daily.
The impact of stress
We often hear how stress affects the totality of the body but now it seems that it may be the culprit to the impedance of weight loss.
University of Florida study
A recent 2016 study researchers from the University of Florida discovered that chronic stress stimulates production of a particular protein that inhibits fat metabolism in animal experiments. When the body is under significant amount of stress, it produces greater amounts of the protein and the normal fat burning processes slows down markedly.
In other words, stress makes it difficult for the body to break down fat.
University of Rochester Medical Center study
In another relevant study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center, stressful working conditions are known to impact health behaviors directly and indirectly.
Directly, stress can affect the neuroendocrine system, resulting in abdominal fat or may cause a decrease in sex hormones which often lead to weight gain. Indirectly, stress is linked to the consumption of too many fatty or sugary foods and inactivity.
In fact, researchers have found a link between emotional issues like stress, anxiety and depression, and higher body mass indexes (BMI). Many of us can relate to the idea of overindulging at happy hour after a bad day at the office, for example, or eating a pint of ice cream to help us deal with bad news.
The Departments of Psychiatry and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
The Departments of Psychiatry and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, examined the effects of stress on the meal patterns and food intake of animals exposed to the equivalent of everyday stress on humans.
The results suggest that, not only does stress have an impact on us in the short term, it can cause metabolic changes in the longer term that contribute to obesity.
In layman’s terms
In layman’s terms, stress and its impact on health is connected in the following manner. When we experience stress in response to a stressor, the brain instructs the body to release certain hormones. One of those hormones, cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands, plays an important role as to how the body responds to stress.
Cortisol is our “fight or flight” response to a stressor. Under acute stress (stress associated with everyday life), cortisol returns to normal upon completion of the task. However, when we subject ourselves to chronic stress (repeated exposure to situations that lead to the release of stress hormones), cortisol levels build up in the blood and cause wear and tear on the body.
Stress and elevated cortisol levels
Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease, etc. Our stress response system was not designed to be constantly activated. This overuse may contribute to the breakdown of many bodily systems causing it to deregulate.
Dr. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist who pioneered the study of stress and its impact on modern life, indicated that stress is pervasive in modern society and that in terms of the way the body responds to stress doesn’t matter much if the source is negative or positive. He was noted to saying that, “no one can live without experiencing some degree of stress all the time, what matter most is how it’s handled—how you’re able to “adapt” to it or “cope” with it.”
Here are three ways that your mind may assist in “de-stressing” your body:
1. Embrace your life from a different perspective:
Try to find a few moments during the day where your mind escapes to the positive yet simple pleasures of life (family, vacations, weekend trips/plans, recreational activities, etc.).
2. Have at least one close friend:
A good friend doubles our happiness and are positive companions which is vital to a joy-filled life. So next time stress lingers, phone a friend and share a good laugh together—a few moments of mindless laughter may be all that is needed.
3. Take a mental and physical walk:
Hippocrates said, “walking is man’s best friend.” Walking can be the ultimate healthy multitasking opportunity. Take the first two points above and incorporate them into your daily walking break. You will end up having good positive thoughts, talking to a friend to share a laugh and lastly an opportunity to exercise your body.
A winning stress reducing proposition!
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