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The Stress That Gets Overlooked

By Dr. Len Lopez
Nutrition and fitness expert


CBN.comStress and stress management are growing concerns in today’s work force. They decrease work productivity, affect our health, distract us from work, increase absenteeism, and most of all, they affect the company’s bottom line.

Managing stress has typically meant telling people to take the time to smell the roses, exercise, breathe deeply, meditate, visualize, journal, etc. But what exactly is stress? Isn’t the body designed to handle stress? Yes, but acute, short-term stress, NOT constant prolonged stress. 

Stress is more than a mental or emotional problem. It is typically described as any type of mental stimulus that triggers worry, anxiety, and fear. It’s that ‘fight or flight’ mode that we’ve heard about, running from the proverbial saber tooth tiger.  This signals the body, specifically the adrenal glands, to produce stress hormones: adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine. This real problem occurs when we constantly produce our stress hormones and overwork our adrenal glands. The constant production of our stress hormones have a direct effect on our ability to lose weight, handle cravings, keep from getting diabetes, protect from depression, keep high blood pressure in check, defeat cholesterol, fight PMS, prevent hot flashes, stop insomnia, and the list goes on.

It’s easy to identify your stress if it is work, finances, or relationships. But what about the stresses we don’t think of? Can we be adding to our stress levels and not even know it? Have we focused only on the mental stresses and overlooked how diet and exercise can contribute to stress?

Stress is Cumulative

Yes, diet and exercise can increase the stress in your life! Keep in mind, stress is anything that triggers our adrenal glands to produce more of its stress hormones. Digestive difficulties, blood sugar imbalances, and exercise cause the body to produce more of its stress hormones. This constant demand can eventually deplete and exhaust our adrenal glands and cause adrenal fatigue and exhaustion, which is an underlying problem to many of our health issues.

  1. Blood sugar – When we skip meals, our blood sugar drops. Low blood sugar is associated with cravings, irritability, mood swings, and lightheadedness. Basically having low blood sugar affects our concentration, our focus, and our ability to think clearly. Worst of all, it takes us out of our ‘fat burning’ zone. Low blood sugar due to skipped meals or poor dietary choices triggers the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol and adrenaline. Eating processed, refined, junk foods will also throw our blood sugar out of balance and triggers additional demand on the adrenal glands. Add that to all the mental stress going on and you can eventually deplete and exhaust your adrenal glands.
  1. Digestive difficulties – The second culprit, which is often overlooked, is bloating, gas, indigestion, heartburn, and other irritable bowel problems. Digestive difficulties are a huge problem! Antacids and other digestive products are in the top five sellers for prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Digestive problems cause irritation and inflammation in your stomach. This triggers your adrenal glands to produce additional cortisol, which works as a powerful anti-inflammatory, needed to reduce the inflammation in your stomach. The result is the adrenals are over-taxed, which further depletes and fatigues them.
  1. Exercise – There’s nothing better than punching the heavy bag or running or lifting some weight to let some steam off. But the intensity of the exercise could be adding more stress to the body. Exercise triggers the adrenals to produce more cortisol and adrenaline. The more intense the workout, the more stress hormones you produce.

Aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, dance) at low to moderate intensity is stress reducing. On the other hand, moderate to high intensity exercise will trigger additional cortisol and adrenaline, which is stress producing.
Exercising at moderate to high intensity is great. But if the person is already in this exhausted state due to all the stress taxing his or her body, it can work against that individual. This is why it is so important to recognize the difference between aerobic training and aerobic “metabolism.” The thought that exercise cures everything just isn’t right. Your current health and fitness level, along with the amount of stress in your life, may dictate the need for an easy, low intensity workout instead of the “no pain no gain” motto.
 
Identifying where the stress is coming from is critical. If you’ve only focused on steps to reduce the mental stress and overlooked these types of stress, it could be the reason why your health has been suffering. The key is to identify where the stress is coming from and reduce it.

Many of the principles taught to help reduce mental stress work great, but they don’t help you digest your food, keep your blood sugar stable, or exercise at the right intensity.

Manage Overlooked Stress:

  • Don’t skip or delay meals.
  • Stay away from refined, processed junk foods, snacks, and beverages.
  • Eat protein and good fats with each meal to keep blood sugar stable.
  • Take your time to eat and digest your foods. Eating on the run is a ‘NO, NO’.
  • Add a good digestive enzyme like Digest Plus if you struggle with digestive problems.
  • Avoid common food allergens such as dairy, wheat, corn, soy, caffeine, MSG, and artificial sweeteners for two to four weeks.
  • Follow good food combining principles.
  • Eat fruits by themselves.
  • Eat protein with fibrous vegetables.
  • Refrain from protein and starchy vegetables.
  • Keep exercise intensity low to moderate for a while.
  • Use a heart rate monitor to determine your intensity level for aerobic exercise
    • A good rule of thumb is to keep your heart rate below targeted heart rate (180 minus your age = maximum targeted heart rate for aerobic exercise). When you exercise above that level, you increase the amount of cortisol and adrenaline.
    • Most importantly, nourish the adrenal glands. Stress depletes the body of specific nutrients and causes hormonal and metabolic changes and imbalances. Just as an athlete depletes his or her body of water and minerals after a workout, a person under constant stress will deplete his or her adrenal glands of their much-needed nutrients. Products like Adrenal Fuel, which contains vitamin C, B, zinc, selenium, and adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, rhodiola, cordyceps, and ginseng, are known to support and strengthen the adrenal glands.
    These are the first simple steps you can take to reduce the load of stress on your body. If you think stress is a problem, use the online health quizzes to help identify where the stress is coming from. You can also learn more about proper aerobic and anaerobic training for your best results in To Burn or Not to Burn, Fat is the Question (Brown Books), along with tips on how stress and diet trigger your hormones to burn or store fat.

Dr. Len LopezDr. Len Lopez is a nutrition and fitness expert and creator of The Work Horse Trainer.  He speaks extensively on diet, exercise, and how stress can affect your overall health and wellness.

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