It’s been known for a bit that extra stress causes weight gain. When cortisol levels go up, it increases cravings, drive our appetite up, and make our bodies hold on to that stubborn belly fat. But outside of selling all our worldly possessions and moving to a remote cabin in the woods (which does sound like a solid plan at least once a month!), there are other solutions to help us lower cortisol and help us meet our ideal fitness goals.
Banishing cortisol from our bodies with herbs
cortisol is the most widely talked about stress hormone that influences weight gain. We live in a society that lives for stress, but our bodies were not made to be in fight-or-flight mode 24/7. Research from the University of New Mexico shows that raised cortisol levels make your body crave carbs. The herbal supplement Ashwaganda, which has been used in ayurvedic medicine, is great to combat stress hormones. In a double-blind study performed by the Department of Neuropsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry at Asha Hospital in India found that Ashwaganda effectively reduced serum cortisol levels vs. the placebo group, after a 60 day regimen.
Boost Endorphins with Exercise
It’s not the answer everyone wants to hear, but we’ve known that exercise is not only great for shedding pounds, but also for shedding stress. 30 minutes of exercise a day has also been proven to help extend the lives of women, so pick up the dumbbells or head our for a walk!
Get enough sleep
Amount and quality of sleep effects the cortisol levels in the body. Over time, lack of sleep will increase the level of cortisol in the body, and studies have found that people who work grave shifts and sleep during the day have increased levels of cortisol in the body as opposed to their counterparts that work during the day. Rotating shifts also cause increased levels.
Insomnia will increase cortisol for up to 24 hours, as does even short interruptions in sleep.
Ways to help? Make sure you put down your electronic devices before bed, avoid caffeine and distractions, and if shift work disrupts your sleep patterns, take naps when possible to decrease drowsiness and prevent a sleep deficit.
Learn to recognize stressful thoughts, and decrease them
Negative thought patterns and dwelling on stressful situations has been shown to have a negative impact on the body, so much so that there is now proof that it may cause cancer.
Practicing mindfulness and mediation are strategies that can help us lower our stress response. Training yourself to become aware of your thoughts, breathing and heart rate are a start to reducing stressful thoughts and emotions. Deep breathing is a strategy that can help reduce stress in the body. In a study of 28 middle aged women, they say a 50% reduction in cortisol levels with consistent deep breathing practices.
Don’t worry, be happy!
We’ve covered only a small number of ways to help reduce stress, and therefore the pesky cortisol hormone in the body, but these are just the beginning. Take time to enjoy yourself, have fun, and connect with the people you love.