November 22nd, 2021
It's that time of year again. It's the most wonderful and stressful time of the year! This is the time of year for many of us that our to do lists just exploded and our social obligations are beginning to que up leading our calendars to get packed. We are faced with all sorts of competing priorities and and commitments crowding into our normal routine. Something has got to give. I want to give you a compelling reason to not let that be exercise.
Believe me, I know how easy it is to make exercise the first routine item to get bumped off the list because everyone else’s needs are more important than our own - especially when you are a parent. Holiday stress is inevitable for many of us. Let's take a closer look at this phenomena we call stress and how our bodies respond to it.
Stress is something we all experience. It is part of the human condition. It can even serve an important purpose to help us respond appropriately to situations. Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. It can also be a situation that is life threatening which can put is into “fight or flight” mode. Fight-or-flight mode refers to chemical changes that occur in the body to get it ready for physical action.
There are 2 types/categories of stress: life threatening and annoying but livable (ABL). Life threatening stress is exactly as it states-a threat to an individual’s life. This type of stress usually requires a physical response (fight for your life and/or flee for your life) while ABL stress does not.
Whether your stress is life threatening or ABL, our bodies respond the same way. Two powerful hormones are secreted to help us respond to the stress
1. Adrenaline-the hormone that gives you super human strengt
2. Cortisol-the hormone that puts fats and sugars into your blood stream to allow you to fight for your life or flee for your life.
Cortisol is the hormone that can wreak havoc on health and weight management efforts. Cortisol drives cravings and appetite which of course drives weight gain. The problem is, it doesn't drive cravings for broccoli. It drives cravings for high fat, high-sugar, densely-caloric foods. These are foods that provide instant energy. With cortisol in the driver's seat, it can leave you feeling as if you have no control over what you put in your mouth. Have you ever been a stressful situation and found that you couldn't stuff enough ice cream, chips, cookies fast enough? Cortisol is generally the reason. To make matters worse, if we experience chronic stress (stress that is relentless), cortisol levels can stay elevated becoming toxic and wrecking havoc on our health. Many diseases can result from chronic stress and high cortisol levels: high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease and more.
Unfortunately, the holidays present the perfect setup. Stress levels tend to rise along with the ability to access the immediate gratification foods that cortisol is driving us to consume. Think of all the treats that descend on our environments during this time. High levels of cortisol make it nearly impossible to pass up the cookies and candies that abound.
So the question is, if you cannot change the stress, what can you do? How can you manage your stress and your waistline through this season?
If your holiday stress is anchored by important friend and family traditions, it can be difficult to not deliver on these events and commitments. If you cannot control the cause of the stress, all you can do is control your response to it.
Here's the good news. There is something you can do that can actually resolve your body's hormonal response to stress.
That is because exercise is the execution of fight or flight. Exercise resolves (washes out) the toxic build up of cortizol. The two main categories of exercise: cardiovascular and strength training provide the perfect solution to stress management!
Cardiovascular exercise is executing the "flight" in "fight or flight". Strength training replicates "fight" side of the equation. Exercise is absolutely essential to managing stress and to preventing the toxic effects of the stress hormones.
Most regular exercisers cite that their workouts help them return to a state of calm and that they feel more in control overall as well as clear headed. Many cite that appetite and cravings also generally decrease.
There is no pill you can take that will provide the benefits to stress management that exercise does!
Here's the good news. It doesn't have to be one long grueling session. Try to find ways to fit in 5-10 minutes throughout your day. Sneaking it in can truly count. Here are some ideas:
1. Walk up and down the steps for 5 minutes
2. Get up and do 10 squats rest for a few seconds and repeat 5 more times.
3. Park further from a store and walk briskly
4. Go for a 10-20 min walk after a meal.
As the competing priorities of the holidays line up leaving you feeling stressed out and out of control, make EXERCISE your go to!
Bottom line, keeping exercise a priority during the holiday season will help you feel less stress and possibly help reduce your cravings! Happy Holidays! Liz
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Liz Dumont Proctor, founder Be Forever Fit