Is Stress Making Your Pants Tight?

There are many people today trying to lose weight, build muscle, improve their sleep and the list goes on.  Some people think that they have to beat themselves up in the gym after a stressful day at work or wake up real early to get their workout in.  What people don't realize is that these things put a lot of stress on the body and can prevent your body from responding the way you want.  Stress is something that affects all of us at one time or the other, but by understanding how certain everyday habits might add to the problem, maybe we can reverse these habits and get one step closer to our goal.  

One thing that a lot people do everyday are drink high caffeine drinks such as coffee or Red Bull.  Caffeine is very stressful to the adrenal glands, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system putting our bodies in a "fight or flight" mode.  A stress hormone called Cortisol is then released in the body.  Stress hormones, like Cortisol, are categorized as catabolic hormones, which mean they break down tissue.  If you are trying to build muscle, you do not want your catabolic hormone levels high!  The opposite of catabolic is anabolic and these are the good guys.  These are the hormones that will build muscle and help keep the body in "fat burning mode".

Remember, cortisol is released due to stress, so when our stress is high it can have a harmful affect on our bodies.  For example, cortisol negatively affects neural tissue health, quality of sleep and mood.  You might be wondering, how does it affect sleep?  Well, cortisol is naturally high in your body in the morning when the sun rises.  The light stimulates your pineal gland, which activates the reticular activating system, which gets you ready for your day.  After about 12 o'clock your cortisol levels start to slowly decrease (as long as you don't artificially stimulate them) and your melatonin levels (the hormone that helps you sleep) increases.  So let's say you are on your way to the gym around 6:00 p.m after a long day of work and your decide to have a coffee or a Red Bull to give yourself some energy.  The caffeine spikes your cortisol levels and lowers your melatonin levels, so then you get home from the gym and can't get to bed until after midnight because you had a coffee at 6 o'clock, but now your cutting into your good sleep when the body should be rebuilding itself.  Remember, your cortisol levels should naturally be down at this time and when cortisol is down, hormones like DHEA, growth hormone and testosterone are high.

Also, as I stated earlier, stress creates a sympathetic response in the body, which blocks digestion.  So with the examples given above, we can see the various negative affects that stress has on the body.  Like I said, we all deal with stress at one point or the other, but what we need to do is slow down.   Keep yourself properly hydrated (How Much Water Should I Drink Per Day?) and don't rely on caffeine for energy, get to bed at a reasonable hour and relax when you feel tried.  Don't beat yourself up in the gym after a long, tiring day at work because you could be doing more damage than good.

Stay Fit and Stay Healthy,

Jim