Are you over 40, exercising, eating properly and still too fat in the middle? You may be suffering from too much cortisol!
Cortisol is uncontrollable as it is released along with other hormones in response to stress, either psychological or physical. For instance, adrenaline is released in "fight-or-flight" situations and then cortisol is released to aide the body in recovery from the stress. It is also a by-product of the stress of resistance training.
The confusion begins for fellow lifters because cortisol is an important hormone that helps to regulate blood pressure, inflammation and metabolism, but it is also catabolic in nature. And catabolism, the breakdown of protein in muscle tissue in response to intensive training, is a process that sends shivers up and down the spines of hardworking lifters.
In addition to stress and resistance training, cortisol levels are increased in the body in response to caffeine, lack of sleep, and dieting extremes.
Legendary Fitness, Top 10 List of Problems with Elevated Cortisol
- Weight gain. Increased levels of cortisol slow down the overall metabolism and increase cravings for sugary carbohydrates.
- Mid-section carries higher fat levels. According to the Weill College of Cornell University, these higher fat levels occur even if you are exercising and eating properly.
- Rise in blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance leads to Type II diabetes.
- Loss of muscle mass. Couple the loss of muscle mass with the weight gain and bodyfat levels climb rapidly. In addition, the metabolism slows down even more with lower levels of muscle mass allowing this vicious weight gaining cycle to perpetuate itself.
- Accelerate bone loss in women. Increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis are major concerns for women over 40 suffering from accelerated bone loss.
- Blocks the anabolic effects of testosterone. Chronic increased levels of increased cortisol will virtually make your workouts ineffective.
- Increases inflammation. Normal levels of cortisol help with inflammation, but chronic elevated problems can cause the opposite effect of increasing levels of inflammation.
- Increases the risk of disease. Much of the increased disease risk can be attributed to the health related risks of being overweight.
- Ketosis. Dr. Fred Hatfield explains cortisol and ketosis best. "High cortisol levels cause your liver to split the fat molecules that are mobilized via cortisol activity into ketoacids. High levels of these ketoacids in the extracellular fluid can cause a dangerous situation called ketosis."
- Brain structures atrophy. Elevated cortisol affects the hippocampus, which is involved with memory. Long lasting elevated levels of cortisol can lead to dementia.
- Depression. Weakened immune systems, slower metabolisms leading to weight gain, increases in bodyfat percentages and changes in the brain caused by chronically high cortisol levels can cause depression.
Diane: Richard this topic is very timely! We just had a conversation about one of your students that apparently was having some personal problems. Mood changes and a rapid weight gain were just a few clues.
Richard: Yes, it's interesting to see research that shows that abdominal fat and weight gain can be caused by chronic cortisol even when exercising and eating properly. But, don't forget, we also found that Dr. Mann at Cornell University believes, as do I, that overeating is involved. Dr. Mann states, "Do people under stress have more abdominal fat because of cortisol, or because over-eating is their approach to coping with stress?"
Diane: Good point, Richard. You have to wonder about the accuracy of nutrition logs written by people under high degrees of stress. But, the point is that weight gain, whether from simple over-eating or from stress related elevated cortisol levels, success can be found in controlling the cortisol by controlling stress.
Baby boomers, we want the short-term elevated cortisol levels that are beneficial to our health and longevity caused by efficient resistance training and cardiovascular exercise. But, we want to control the chronically elevated cortisol levels caused by stress that lead to so many health problems.
How can we reduce the effects of exercise related increased cortisol levels? Glutamine is a great start. It's a great supplement that aids in recovery. Yes, glutamine will positively affect the catabolic effects of training. To read more on this supplement, please see my glutamine article. (Diabetics should not take glutamine without first consulting a physician.)
All lifters know that work in the gym is only a small part of fitness success. Nutrition is a key factor. Avoid extremes in dieting. For those fellow baby boomers involved in competition, begin your dieting phase well in advance of a contest and try to keep relatively lean throughout the year. Fruits and vegetables contain beta-sitosterol, which helps reduce cortisol levels during stressful times. In addition, green tea is useful in keeping cortisol levels in check because it helps with relaxation.
Of course, psychological issues are important with regard to cortisol levels and stress. Working to quiet the mind, balancing the demands of employment against family and leisure time, organization and preparedness at home, work and the gym and adequate amounts of sleep are important factors for eliminating chronic elevated cortisol levels. The Medical College of Ohio studied the effects of the environment on stress levels using the REST technique or Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique. The REST group saw a 21.6% reduction in plasma cortisol. "Restricting stimulation from the environment has been shown to alter psychological and physiological states."
So baby boomers, our message remains one of balance, health, fitness, vitality, longevity and quality of life. Baby boomers are once again joining together in the 21st century, as we did in the 1960s by redefining culture and society with the large numbers of our legendary generation. Now, it's time to go far beyond generational influences with changes on clothes, music and hairstylesâ€¦â€¦.it's time to redefine the aging process by reversing unhealthy trends by controlling stress levels.