Cortisol and How it Affects Your Weight

20 Dec

Today I am going to teach you something that is basic as caveman days. It is called the “fight or flight response”. This is an instinct put in us to respond to stress. We are to respond to stressful events with either the fight or  flight response – fight off the bad guy or run from the bad guy. What does this have to do with fitness you ask? Everything and let me tell you why!

 In this day and time we have stressors all around us. We are confronted with so much stress that we now live in a world of “chronic stress”. And we are built to respond to stress by fighting or flighting. This is natural instinct. Both of those activities bring activity and rush to our bodies. But in our world it is highly unlikely that we are going to respond to our pain in the ass, stressing boss by either fighting him or running down the 8 flights of stairs to get away from him. No, we have to repress that stress. And when we repress that stress our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. One of the main functions of the catabolic hormone cortisol is to strip lean muscle to use for fuel in the body. Cortisol released without fighting or flighting can be very harmful. Cortisol connects with body fat and hangs out basically has a party with fat making it hard to lose body fat.

So, how do we remedy this? Exercise, and not just medium intensity aerobics like walking or even basic jogging, but what I call interval aerobic exercise. Funny thing, medium intensity exercise is just strenuous enough to increase cortisol. And we don’t want that. So we want to do more intense aerobic exercise. Interval training is a great way to do this. Every single person I train, no matter what their age or fitness level, I advocate interval training. Interval training is medium intensity aerobic activity mixed with intense bursts of aerobic activity – combining a mixture of both of these throughout an entire workout. A basic interval program is not pushing the interval button on the cardio equipment. No, this is not going to be intense enough for most of you. You must push yourself through an interval. So, the first basic interval program would look something like this. Warm up for 3-5 minutes, then go into one minute of very hard cardio, then 2 minutes of rest work something like your warm up, then another minute of the hard burst of cardio, then 2 minutes of rest work, continuing until you enter a cool down in the last 4-5 minutes of your exercise.

The first time you do this you may only be able to do one or two intervals because that is how hard you should be pushing yourself. When training clients I look at the SPM (strides per minute) or RPM (reps per minute) on the elliptical and bike or the speed on the treadmill. You should push yourself to where you working at least 35% harder during your intervals. Most clients at a normal fitness level do about 126 rpms on the elliptical at rest work then speed up to 165 to 180 rpms during their intervals. And if the SPMs or RPMs get too easy you need to increase the resistance to make it more difficult. This type of exercise is just hard enough to burn that cortisol up! Don’t forget that you need to check your Heart Rate too. Click Here now to read my blog post on heart rate.

Think of all the things that stress you out while doing those intervals and push yourself really hard. And during the rest work, relax and think of happy things. You see interval training is also psychological in more ways than one. On one hand the interval will help you burn up your stress. On the other hand you have the idea of rest work in the back of your mind. This should enable you to make it through that minute of hard work. Just push yourself!! Interval training not only helps get rid of cortisol it builds endurance, helps keep your heart healthy and so much more. It is the best, and to me the only, way to do your cardiovascular exercise. Of course you have to change up your intervals as your body adapts just to shock your body out of that plateau but such is life of the serious fitness enthusiast and that will be you if you make it to the first interval plateau. Happy Training!! Kathie 🙂

To read more about Interval Trainining read this article: Interval Fitness Training and the Benefits

To read more about Plateaus read this article: Don’t Hit a Brickwall Prevent a Plateau in Your Fitness

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