4 Ways to Reduce Stress
With our ever-stressed, fast-paced lifestyles, our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost constantly. This can wreak havoc on our health. So, what exactly is cortisol, how does it affect your body and how can you keep it under control? Let’s investigate how to reduce stress…
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone) that is produced from cholesterol in the adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. It’s normally released in response to things like waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress. Cortisol’s far-reaching, systemic effects play many roles in the body’s effort to carry out its processes and maintain homeostasis.
Effects of high cortisol:
If cortisol levels are constantly elevated, it can have the following effects on your body:
- Blood Sugar Imbalance and Diabetes
- Weight Gain and Obesity
- Immune System Suppression
- Gastrointestinal Problems
- Fertility Problems
Cortisol also plays an important role in our nutrition. It regulates energy by selecting what it needs from carbohydrate, fat, or protein stores to meet the physiological demands placed on our body. When chronically elevated, cortisol can have deleterious effects on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk.
Some obvious signs of elevated cortisol levels include fat around the face, the hips, and the waist. It also contributes to “stress eating”, because when stress hormones are released, the body thinks “I better get some energy into my body”. That’s when you’re most likely to reach for the naughty snacks to help ward off the feeling of low blood sugar.
How to reduce stress and manage cortisol levels
Stressed-out people can be destined for failed health despite their best intentions. Fortunately, there’s much that can be done to reverse the path of destruction. Here are my tips for keeping your cortisol levels at bay:
Find Out Your Level
Getting a blood test will reveal what your cortisol levels are. Normal ranges for adults are between 5-23 mcg/dL in the morning and between 3-16 mcg/dL in the afternoon. To get your levels check, see your GP for a referral.
How you deal with stress is one of the key factors to keep your cortisol levels at optimum. Some strategies to reduce stress include:
- Getting more and better quality sleep
- Relaxation exercises
- Addressing psychological and emotional issues
- Exercising regularly
Eat Foods That Minimise Inflammation
The foods you eat can have an impact, so try to:
i. Implement a low glycaemic load diet
ii. Reduce intake of trans fats and saturated fats
iii. Eliminate or reduce caffeine consumption
iv. Drink alcohol in moderation (or not at all)
v. Boost consumption of whole plant foods
vi. Meet recommended intake of fats
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise improves the way we deal with everyday stress. The mechanisms behind this are complex, but the results are clear… we feel the effects of stress less if we move more. For those living with anxiety and stress disorders, exercise is an effective treatment. Exercise has also been shown to have a positive impact on those living in more complex conditions, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
So how much exercise should you be doing? A minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise every week. In other words, aim to exercise at least 30 minutes, 5 times per week.
A great way to get start would be to download the free Nike Running Club app that provides you with guided runs to help you start your running journey. They also provide guided mindfulness runs that help you focus on your breathing and thoughts, a great way to de-stress! Download here.
Written by Steven Roberts. Steven is an Accredit Exercise Physiologist who runs his own business and is to keep people fit and healthy.