Is stress making you fat?
The simple answer?
If you’re over 35, probably yes.
Although there may be other factors, stress can play a significant role in weight gain as we age, starting as early as our mid-30s.
Here are 3 reasons.
1. Excess Cortisol.
Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is released by the adrenal glands and provides a healthy regulation to the body’s stress response (fight or flight). It does everything from increase blood glucose to stimulate energy to calm inflammation for tissue repair.
But when excess cortisol is present (thanks to chronic stress and/or decreasing progesterone), it can convert to glucose which is then stored as fat.
Frequently, this results in belly fat.
2. Declining or Depleted Progesterone.
Fluctuating hormones throughout the aging process can alter how the body responds to stress, making it much more difficult to rebound like we once did.
Progesterone, a calming hormone, helps relax the mind, decrease inflammation, and induce sleep. It is a precursor to cortisol and works to balance it out.
When progesterone decreases, the body can become less effective in managing stress.
Specifically, cells become more sensitive to cortisol and store it as fat because there isn’t enough progesterone to keep the equilibrium.
In addition, progesterone can become depleted over time due to chronic stress. Because progesterone is the pre-cursor to cortisol and cortisol is released when stress is present, progesterone can dwindle when having to make so much cortisol.
Yes, exercise is healthy but not all exercise is created equal nor is each body.
Because of hormone changes, the same exercise that may have been practiced in younger years may not be the best as we get older.
Intense workouts and those that raise heart rate for an extensive amount of time can cause release of excess cortisol during and after exercise – leading to storing that cortisol as fat.
This can mean that no matter how hard workouts are, if cortisol levels are high, weight gain rather than weight loss may be experienced.
What can be done about it?
Managing stress, modifying exercise, and altering lifestyle habits to bring cortisol levels down can all help maintain weight and contribute to weight loss.
Often, Dr. Graves recommends a holistic approach to lowering cortisol in ways such as, but not limited to:
Cortisol goes down during deep sleep and the body begins to burn fat so focusing on proper quality and quantity of sleep (ideally 7-8 hours) are important. Acupuncture, herbal supplements, and holistic counseling can all support this basic health function.
Exercise smarter by increasing cortisol lowering activities. Combine strength training (to keep muscle mass) with HIIT workouts and relaxing, gentle movement throughout the week.
An example of this would be:
- 2 days of strength training
- 2 days of HIIT for 25 minutes (more than this can cause cortisol to spike)
- 2-3 days of yoga, stretching, walking, hiking, swimming, kayaking, biking, etc.
Herbal supplements can be a supportive tool when used with other lifestyle changes such as above.
Such options are:
- Cortisol Manager™ by Integrative Therapeutics
- Adrenal Response® by Innate Response Formulas
- Lavela WS 1265™ by Integrative Therapeutics
- Cortisol Calm by Pure Encapsulations
- Cortisol Balance™ by Mountain Peak Nutritionals
Reduce obligations, let go of high expectations, and create a balanced schedule filled with rest and relaxation time.
Soak in an epsom salt bath, take a weekend off, or just snuggle up and take a nap – it may be needed!
There are many reasons for weight gain but if a proper diet and consistent exercise aren’t helping shed the pounds, excess cortisol from stress may be to blame.
For support in managing stress and cortisol levels (as well as supplement recommendations), please call us at (303) 688-6698 or click here to schedule a free 15 minute phone appointment with Dr. Graves.
The CNMA office provides naturopathic care, acupuncture, testing, massage, and holistic counseling to those in Castle Rock, Castle Pines, Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Centennial, Parker, Larkspur, Monument, Colorado Springs, and the greater Denver metro area. For those outside of these areas, virtual appointments are available.