Cortisol is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and is released during times of stress to help the body respond to the stress (think fight or flight), and is also used as an anti-inflammatory agent in local corticosteriod injections to treat persistent injuries, reducing the redness, swelling, and pain at the injury.
Unfortunately, when used too often or for a prolonged period of time, it can have negative side effects including thinning of the skin, easy bruising, weight gain, puffiness of the face, acne (steroid acne), elevation of blood pressure, cataract formation, and thinning of the bones (osteoporosis), to name a few.
During a “Fight or Flight”stress, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol.
Normally, these elevated hormone levels return to normal after the threat or stress has passed. But in our modern society, many people suffer from more than their share of stress (physical and mental), which leads to anxiety.
Without a form of exercise, cortisol and other stress hormones build up in the body, resulting in an immunosuppressive effect, making you more susceptible to illness or infection, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart disease, as well as raising your blood sugar level contributing to diabetes. Cortisol is also catabolic, meaning that it breaks down your muscles and your system in general.
To top it all off, chronic high levels of cortisol can cause weight gain, commonly showing up on the face, shoulder blades and back of neck, and around the abdomen often accompanied by reddish-purple streaks (striae) that look like stretch marks.
Although high levels of cortisol are a contributing factor to storage of abdominal fat, too much food and not enough exercise is really what makes us fat. Stress however may lead to an increased appetite and cravings, and high levels of cortisol contribute further to store fat around the waist.
So what can we do about cortisol?
Exercise! Exercise is a means to release all those stored up stress hormones from the body that would otherwise continue to build up day after day.
Weight training in particular speeds this process and also increases human growth hormone, which helps to block the effects of cortisol.
Exercise increases the brain’s output of serotonin and dopamine, which contribute immensely to reducing stress and anxiety, and help you to feel good.
The bottom line is exercise rids the body of stress hormones, reducing anxiety, and keeps you fit and healthy.
Diana Howard is a certified elite personal trainer and specialist in nutrition and exercise therapy. To book a personal training session or for more info call 512-2295 or contact the Aquatic Centre at 364-0888.