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By: Monika Eskandarian

I never used to give Stress much thought.

When we go about our day, we experience a range of emotion throughout our waking hours. Some of these emotions can be labelled as stress. This can occur in traffic, at work when feeling under pressure to perform a certain way, in family situations with spouse and kids or even something simple as feeling hungry when its not time to eat.

The reason i say i never gave it much thought is because i think i just accept that stress is a part of life, you deal with the situation thats stressing you out and move on...I never gave it deeper thought, like for example what happens in our bodies when we are experiencing stress?

I have been reading the book *\'The Paleo Solution\' by Robb Wolf, and he introduced me to the hormone called Cortisol. I believe that many people have heard of Cortisol and relate it to being a \"stress hormone\". That overly simplifies its role in our body because it is also a very necessary part of us. Cortisol is a key player when it comes to regulating the storage and utilization of energy. It also has an effect on a host of other functions;

1/ Cortisol helps to regulate our \'immune response\' when we catch a bug- too much of an immune response can lead to autoimmunity or other problems that are caused by the damage of an overactive immune system. It basically puts the \'breaks on\' the immune system; this will determine how we respond to illness.

2/ How much sodium we have in our bloodstream is affected by how much Cortisol we release. More Cortisol means more Sodium, and this makes for a higher blood volume. This typically leads to higher blood pressure thats associated with stress on the heart, vasculature and kidneys.

3/ Heres a good one- Cortisol regulates connective tissue strength! Too much Cortisol weakens connective tissue strength in the skin and elsewhere i.e Cortisol can and will make you wrinkle faster...

4/ Lastly- Cortisol releases glucose and fatty acids from the liver and blunts insulin sensitivity. This is where we start to get chubby without even eating too much or not exercising enough.

So you can see that Cortisol can cause significant problems in our body when we release too much because of specific triggers- such as stress. Causing factors of stress not only include work and family pressure, it also includes not sleeping enough and over training.

SLEEP ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz.....

Who gets enough sleep? In the right circumstances such as a sleeping in a pitch black room, no gadgets like TV, computer or phone. The reason for needing the room to be pitch black is because there are specific proteins in red blood cells that register light, they carry this information to the brain- this information blocks a very important antioxidant hormone/neurotransmitter called melatonin.
Melatonin is important to us in so many ways ranging from, brain function, fertility, depression, disease and maintaining healthy body weight. You cannot get Melatonin from any food source!!! Something that the pharmaceutical companies are fully aware of, so you can BUY it- or you can just sleep in a very dark room. :-)

It may seem that Ive gone a little off track in this article, but i promise i havent! Sleep is so important to us on so many levels- if you are rested you are able to cope with \"life\" stresses better, you are able to train harder, in turn sleep better...Its a cycle. It is enough to just not sleep enough, for the body to release more Cortisol, which in turn will cause all the above-mentioned results. So... just GO TO SLEEP!!

TRAINING & OVER Training....hmmmmm GUILTY!

In his book- The *Paleo Solution, Rob Wolf said \"If you do not exercise you are broken\".Exercise is an integral part of who we are meant to be. We are designed to be really active. Inactivity has shown to be prevalent in Cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, depression, frailty, loss in general capacity and many other ills...We used to have to expend a massive amount of energy to get food, shelter and security. Now days we can get all of those things without having to do much at all. I have to stress that genetically we are the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, only with better fashion sense, awesome haircuts and deodorant :-) No kidding!
So basically we are designed to exercise and in order to keep our health, sanity and a tight tush we have to do some. So how much? I have always thought that the more the better... Now i look at people that do massive amounts of cardio- like long distance running, and they look really frail, bony and kind of wrinkled. There doesnt seem to be much muscle mass on their frames and muscles are the most \'metabolically\' active tissues in our body. Muscle mass = Metabolism. Simple. So how do we get it?

CROSSTRAINING; Doing more than one activity to develop our fitness- this includes planned changes in exercise routines to avoid burnout and have faster progress. All of the training I do with clients, and my own training is programmed like this.

INTERVAL TRAINING; This involves doing a certain exercise (running, biking, rowing, boxing etc) for a specified period of time-applying a certain amount of intensity to that activity. For example doing Tabata training with running; for 20 seconds you sprint as fast as you can and for 10 seconds walk or jog, depending on your level of fitness. This is repeated 8 times. What has been consistently found is that interval training is a on par if not superior to \'steady state\' training. It gets the same or better results, while being hugely time efficient. So basically you dont need to be a \'slave\' to your fitness regime.

So by now youre probably yelling at me, How much should I train???

We are all different, with different needs, abilities and of course time is a factor for everyone.

1/ Do some exercise to build muscle-how much is purely up to you.

2/ Do enough exercise to maintain the muscle you have built.

3/ Be as active as you can in normal day to day life, for example walk to the shops instead of driving, simple things like that.

I mentioned earlier that over training is something that Im guilty of, because i thought that training harder and longer is better for you. But here is what happens to your body if you over train.

As we age we lose our \'fast twitch\' muscle fibres. These types of muscle fibres are responsible for our ability to suddenly burst into a sprint, run up stairs, jump, dodge a projectile like a ball flying at your head... Endurance training (training long and hard) \'accelerates\' this process. High amounts of endurance training also depletes the body\'s store of antioxidants- that subject us to increased levels of oxidative stress. Think Cortisol...

For example when I was training for a solid 1.5 hours, and i would sweat sweat sweat, my Iron stores were so massively depleted that I had to take supplements so I wouldn\'t feel breathless when I need to walk up stairs...I looked great (in my mind) but i felt like crap. I need to stress- I felt like crap; all the time. I felt like i was literally \'wasting away\', yet i still has a fine layer of \'chubb\'. How could this be possible? My body stopped working in the way it should for someone my age. I discuss this further in my blog.

These days I still train hard, but my workouts are a lot shorter. I use my body in all different ways, and i have rediscovered the simple joy of \'walking\', soaking up Vitamin D from the sun. My body is starting to respond in the way that its returning to normal, and the reward is that i feel so much better, stronger and healthier than before.

The word Cortisol used to send a shiver down my spine, because I didn\'t fully understand it. I just thought that being stressed will release Cortisol which in turn will make me fat! Without realising that it can do so much more than that. Now I know that this can be avoided by simply sleeping well and exercising in an intelligent way.

I hope this article simplifies the topic of stress and Cortisol. Im not a physician, dietician or doctor, as well as not being a writer so I apologise for any errors in grammar or spelling. Im just trying to make sense of issues that have become so massive in our day to day lives that i sometimes feel overwhelmed and confused. I think that If Im feeling like this, others might be as well. There is so much mis information out there-handed to us, that i feel its now critical for me to research and find things out for myself.

Thanks for reading!

* Reference; The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf, Victory Belt Publishing, 2010.

Added: 17-10-2011