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Manage Your Stress Levels for Success

I tend to find myself operating with a much greater efficiency with an ability to focus for longer periods of time after a good session at the gym. I also just generally feel happier to be at work! I knew there was a correlation between efficiency, positive feelings and excercise so I asked my personal trainer at VisionPT – Emily Schofield if she could explain it to me scientifically. Here are her thoughts.

Acute and chronic stress affects many individuals to varying degrees. Working in a corporate area, I frequently see clients who are plagued by stress and the physical and mental issues associated with being stressed due to their work or their working environment. Little do many people realise that stress wreaks havoc on our mental health, body composition and productivity. It makes us tired, accelerates the aging process and can prevent us from reaching optimal productivity in our work.

The health damaging behaviours associated with the feeling of being ‘stressed out’ all play their part. Being stressed will often accompany a rise in behaviours such as comfort eating, inability to sleep, feeling anxious or depressed, smoking or drinking alcohol excessively and neglecting to engage in physical exercise.

As mammals, the fight or flight response is hardwired into us as a physiological response to stress. Physical changes evoked by the fight or flight response include – elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, slowed digestion, decreased immune system, and increased release of cortisol (cortisol is a stress hormone that is closely related to fat storage around the midsection). For this reason people who are chronically stressed may not be able to lose fat even if they are doing everything right training and from a dietary point of view.

The fight or flight response is intended to prepare the body in response to a harmful event, attack or threat to survival. However, everyday stressors that provoke such a response put significant stress on the body. For individuals who experience stress as a part of everyday life, chronic elevation of these mediators (such as chronically increased heart rate and blood pressure) produce wear and tear on the cardiovascular system. Over time this can result in serious health issues.

Reducing stress and balancing cortisol levels is essential if looking to attain an optimal body composition – that is, more lean mass and less body fat. When cortisol is chronically elevated, the body thinks it needs to store fat around the midsection so that it will have an easily available source of energy in the event of more intense stress.

Stress can be managed effectively through various different means. Some ideas for managing your stress include

Follow a strength training program. Strength training stimulates the body’s anti stress system, it also builds muscle, gives you more energy, and makes you feel good.

Supplement with magnesium and fish oil. I recommend all of my clients supplement with magnesium which is an anti stress mineral. Magnesium helps calm the nervous system, resulting in an improved quality of sleep helping lower cortisol levels. Omega 3’s found in fish oil are proven to decrease inflammation within the body which help fight the sensations of stress.

Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol is not a sleep aid, it reduces the quality of your sleep. Less sleep = higher cortisol = more stress on body. Alcohol may help you asleep more quickly, however it reduces Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep causing disruption to sleep.

Improve sleep quality and quantity. Get an early night. Staying up late stimulates the release of stress hormones which trigger the fight or flight response in the body. As mentioned above – take magnesium to regulate serotonin levels and improve your quality of sleep.

EAT. All too often people that are stressed go too long without eating sending cortisol even higher. Eating will reset your hormone cascade and reduce cortisol. Choose low glycemic, protein rich foods removing all processed foods for more effective fat loss.

Have 4 hours of just straight plain fun. This means spending time without purpose – play with your kids in the park, go for walk. No one on their death bed ever wished they spent more time in the office. back on things that you don’t really need to do. If you can’t decide on what they are, ask yourself: if someone dear had fallen ill and you had to take care of them, what activities would you reduce or eliminate all together? Sometimes the answers become pretty clear, and by looking after yourself you will ultimately end up doing a much better job for your clients, your family and yourself.

Emily Schofield is an Exercise Scientist, having completed a Bachelor’s degree in Sport and Exercise Science. She is a Personal Trainer at Vision Personal Training, North Sydney. For more information visit