Tension, Cortisol, and Your Heart

Would you struggle with extra fat around your midsection? Excess abdominal fat is not only visually unattractive to some, but it also increases your heart problems risk.

What causes abdominal obesity?

There are many different reasons your body likes to store fat in the abdomen. I want to discuss a single possibility – cortisol.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone made by the adrenal glands in the kidney. Cortisol levels are highest in the morning. Through gluconeogeneis (term for glucose production), cortisol breaks down muscle to provide your body with needed glucose for power needs. Cortisol also relocates unwanted fat cell deposits into the visceral cavities of the abdomen.

Stress and Cortisol

When we are confronted with stress the body’s initial response is “fight or flight”. When we go into “fight” mode our body releases the body hormone norepinephrine. When we respond with “flight” (or anxiety) our body releases epinephrine. If the stressful situation is long-term and you begin to feel distressed and defeated, the hypothalamus in the human brain becomes involved, eventually leading to the discharge of cortisol from the adrenal sweat gland in the kidney.

Why is “fight or flight” important to understand?
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Your understanding of an event can determine your body’s physical response. Do you feel stressed, but challenged by an obstacle or even do you feel overwhelmed and out of control? If you think challenged and “fight” your body responds with an accelerated heart rate that boosts the release of fatty acids into circulation. If you feel out of control and defeated (“flight”), the body increases fat formation (lipogenesis), breakdowns tissue (muscle), suppresses immune system, and increases visceral fat deposits.

What is visceral fat?

Visceral fat is the fat around and between your organs. Subcutaneous fat is the fat level beneath your skin.

Excess visceral unwanted fat leads to the “beer belly” impact (also referred to as the “apple” shape). Visceral fat is connected to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance (linked to diabetes), high cholesterol, hypertension, and heart disease.

Are you at risk?

Move out a tape measure.

Wrap the particular tape measure around your stomach at the level of your navel (belly button). Make sure the tape measure can be level all the way around (you may require extra hands). Resist the enticement to cinch in the tape measure for a lower number, instead hold the tape measure lightly against your skin.

Men – A waist measurement of 40 inches (102 cm) or greater equal’s abdominal morbid obesity.

Women – A waist dimension of 35 inches (88 cm) or greater equal’s abdominal weight problems.

How to reduce stress for minimum impact on abdominal fat and heart disease risk?

Stress is a normal part of residing, but you can take steps to reduce your tension levels.

Physical activity, especially aerobic activity, is a great stress management tool. Exercise releases the “feel good” body hormone serotonin to help combat the unwanted effects of long term stress. As an additional bonus, you burn calories to drop the extra layer of fat.

Additional interventions to reduce stress include meditation, progressive relaxation, meditation, and visualization. Don’t be afraid to step out of the comfort zone and try something new which may be effective at reducing your stress levels. Getting enough sleep and making healthy food choices are two additional steps to promote stress management.

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