Chronic stress, which causes prolonged secretion of cortisol, leads to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome (i.e., adult-onset diabetes), which leads to weight gain. In addition, studies have shown that when cortisol is released into the bloodstream, you become less sensitive to leptin, a hormone that controls our appetite so you end up eating even more when you are stressed out! Being in a chronic state of stress also decreases growth hormone, testosterone, and HDL (good cholesterol) and it increases your insulin, blood sugar, LDL (bad cholesterol), and blood pressure. This leads to weight gain and many, many studies have shown a direct link between stress and weight gain.
Other negative effects of prolonged cortisol secretion include changes in dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain leading to depression and anxiety, shrinkage of brain cells leading to Alzheimer’s disease, an acceleration in bone resorption (or breakdown) leading to osteoporosis, a reduction in testosterone and estrogen levels inhibiting sex drive, suppression of the immune system leading to frequent colds, flu, and infection, and a reduction in the synthesis of brain neurotransmitters leading to memory and concentration problems.1
However… physical activity can help combat stress. Figure out what type of activity you enjoy and you will do it for the rest of your life. It takes 3 weeks to break a habit and 3 weeks to form a habit. Start your new "habit" today. Find an activity that you enjoy—soccer, basketball, cycling, mountain biking, walking—figure out what works for you and do it every day! And beat the stress!
1. Talbott, Shawn M. The Cortisol Connection: Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health - and What You Can Do about It.Alameda, CA: Hunter House, 2002, page 33.
~Dotso, CPT, CPFT, PES, BA, MS
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