You may have heard that stress can affect your health and weight in many ways and that your waistline is a particularly notable victim of stress. Sadly, this is true. Not only does stress impact your weight loss progression but it also affects your blood pressure, resting heart rate and blood sugar levels. If you are looking to improve your health and reduce for weight then tackling stress is a must to ensure you progress. Over this article , we are going to give the information you need to know, on how stress is impacting your health and weight and our top tips to help combat these issues.
The impact of stress on weight loss and health
Most people think of psychological stress when they hear the term “stress”. Stress comes from many things such as:
- Work load stress
- Lack of sleep
- A food intolerance,
- Financial stress
- Family stresses,
- Chronic infections or the lion chasing us down the high street.
Even if your levels of psychological stress are low, any of the conditions listed above can provoke a chronic stress reaction in your body. The bodies response to any stress is either the fight or flight response. This fight or flight causes a cascade of bodily reactions to prime you to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. Many hormones and enzymes are rapidly produced by the body to aid this fight or flight response. This response is vital for our survival and a small amount of stress is very healthy, but as you may expect, frequent stress has some very negative impacts on our health and the modern world isn’t helping with this increased frequency.
Stress makes you fat and unhealthy
When experiencing stress, a part of the brain (hypothalamus) is activated and causes the adrenal glands to release hormones into the blood stream that will prime the body to deal with the stress physically. Cortisol is one of the hormones released by the body in response to stress. Cortisol is an important hormone that they body utilises to help you get out of bed in the morning and should gradually taper off throughout the day so that you feel tired in the evening.
A large amount of research has shown that chronic stress and cortisol levels have a negative impact on both your health and weight. These are things such as:
- Increased belly fat
- Increased calorie consumption
- Increased (Impaired) blood glucose levels
- Reduced sleep quality
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Impaired digestion
- Increased insulin resistance
- Increased inflammation
- Decreased mood and libido
Some of these responses make sense if you are either going to be fighting or running as an increased blood glucose gives you the energy, blood becomes thicker in case of being cut, reduced digestive response as blood is needed elsewhere, increased blood pressure to deal with the increased heart rate…. The list goes on. Unfortunately, none of these are needed when you are sitting in traffic late for work.
Signs of chronic stress
As mentioned above stress can be experienced in many ways other than just psychological stress. So, what are the key signs that you are suffering from high levels of stress?
Have a look at the list below, if you suffer from any of these symptoms on a regular basis I would advise you to keep reading on.
- Low mood / Feeling of depression
- Very tired after moderate exercise
- Increased frequency of illness
- Low libido
- Insomnia / change of sleeping pattern
- Increased resting heart rate
- Abnormal heart rate variable
- Increased blood pressure
It is important to remember that even if experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis may be normal for you it doesn’t mean that it is normal! These symptoms must be addressed if you wish to be in optimal health, body composition and energy levels throughout the day.
How can we reduce our stress?
Now we completely understand that by reading a few tips from us you are not going to be able to eradicate your work, family and financial stress but we are going to give you the tools needed to manage your stress and keep it controlled. Remember that all types of stress cause a very similar reaction in the body from bad food choices to being over worked by your boss. Some of these stresses we can control and we must if we wish to be lean and healthy.
Sleep undoubtedly one of the most overlooked subjects when it comes to someone’s health, fitness and especially reducing levels of stress. In modern day society, we are somehow made to feel guilty for sleeping too much or feeling full of energy throughout the day as if we don’t work hard enough. We do most of our recovery during sleep and it is the best way to regulate your stress hormones back to their natural rhythm.
You should be aiming to get 7-9 hours of quality deep sleep per night. This may sound like a lot, but long term your body will thank you.
To improve sleep quality, we would recommend –
- No caffeine past 1pm
- Reduced blue light exposure from things such as phones, laptops and tablets 90 minutes before bed
- Sleep in a very dark room with minimal noise
- Have a chamomile tea before bed
- Having a warm bath an hour before bed with Epson salts or magnesium flakes in
It is all about allowing your body to get into the state of rest and recover rather than going at 100 miles an hour all the time. You are only fooling yourself if you think you can ‘out do’ human physiology and get straight to sleep after high levels of activity and light exposure minutes before hitting the hay. All the sleep tips above will help your body get into the natural rhythm it needs to ensure a deep and restful sleep, leaving you feeling charged and less stressed for the following day.
Nutrition can’t necessarily be used to reduce stress but it certainly shouldn’t be causing more stress. What’s important about nutrition, unlike family stress or work stress, is that you have full control over what you consume. However, it’s important that your dietary approach isn’t causing added stress that you just don’t need.
Nutrition is the bodies fuel. As simple as this sounds many people forget this and still go for the ingredients that they know they don’t digest well or cause some unwanted outcomes. Now this isn’t to say that you need to start to eat plain, boring food to avoid any of these problems but rather be more aware of the effects certain foods have on your body.
If you notice you have a reaction to a specific type of food, such as bloating, very low energy after eating, low mood or digestive issue, then it’s important to note that these reactions aren’t normal and you should think of them as a warning sign. Reactions like these suggest some level of food intolerance, causing a form of stress to your digestive system, ideally you should try to avoid these foods where possible.
A great way to know how certain foods are affecting you, is by keeping a diet diary. You will be able to connect to the dots over time and learn how to listen to your body, rather than causing damage further down the line.
Another tip to aid stress reduction in the body is to get to get plenty of veggies and fibre in your diet. Again, this won’t directly reduce stress but will aid the liver and kidneys which flush out all the nasty toxins that the modern world throws at us. High levels of these toxins can cause more stress than needed.
If you are looking to improve your health, fitness, body composition and reduce your stress levels that you need to take a tactical approach to training. Working 12 hour days, having a busy family life, going to networking events and then smashing the gym is not going to be beneficial long term nor is it going to be maintainable.
You can only train as hard as you can recover!!
What most people forget, is that exercise is a stress on the body and that working out has the same type of stress responses that sitting in traffic jam, or looking after misbehaving children can have. So, if you are placing a large amount of stress through exercise, on top of large amounts of lifestyle stress, you won’t be able to recover and it could in fact be reversing your progress.
If this is you, try performing sessions that don’t allow your heart rate to get too high or don’t lift too heavy that it places a large demand on your central nervous system. You should be doing exercise that leaves you feeling energised, happy and empowered…not drained and battered. Once you have got other lifestyle stressors under control, you can then push training intensity up, as your body will be better equipped to handle training stress.
You may not think that being dehydrated may increase stress, but in a similar way to being psychologically stressed, being dehydrated can make the body react in a similar way.
Our bodies are made up of around 66% water.
As little as one percent dehydration can lead to:
- Headaches and
- Mental confusion,
- Increased risk of urinary tract infections and kidney stones.
When you are fully hydrated, the first thing you will notice is that you feel “clear” with more energy. Drinking more water is also generally helpful for the kidneys and liver. This is because many of the toxins, both those generated by the body and those consumed, are eliminated via the kidneys and liver. Drinking more water dilutes the concentration of these toxins in the blood, giving these organs an easier time.
We would recommend drinking around 3.5 litres per day for males and 2.5 litres per day for females.
Mindfulness seems to be the new hip kid on the block but what does it really mean, how will it improve my stress levels and what do you even need to do?!
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a very broad term, it doesn’t mean you need to grow dreadlocks and start drinking soya lattes, but there’s now a large amount of scientific research to suggest mindfulness can have a massive impact on stress reduction.
What counts as mindfulness-based stress reduction?
Well for us, it is simply taking time for yourself. Finding some ‘me time’.
Ask yourself honestly, how much time each week do you get to relax, or more importantly take time for yourself? In this modern world, most adults would either say they don’t get ANY time to themselves or very little.
Simple things such as playing sports, going for a walk/jog or performing yoga are all great things to take your mind away from the stresses of life. Then there are less physical things such as a keeping a grateful log, meditation or performing daily breathing techniques, that count towards taking some very important ‘me time’. If you are a little unsure about these mental relaxation techniques, there are plenty of great apps that can help guide you such as ‘Headspace’ or ‘Calm and Relax’.
Want to learn how our Manchester Personal Trainers can help you take back control of your body and health? Get in touch today to book in for your free consultation.