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All you need to know about cortisol

Right now we live uncertain and stressful times due to COVID-19. We have been forced to change our routines. Our bodies have already paid the price… have you gained weight during quarantine? This new situation can cause discomfort and anxiety. Lately I have come across clients who had gained a lot of weight during quarantine. They blame lack of exercise and/or overeating, but in many cases there is another reason. I have had to explain to many clients how cortisol may be affecting their lives and their bodies. Today I will explain everything you need to know about cortisol, the stress hormone. I hope you find it useful.
 

Cortisol: what is it, function, normal values and alterations

 
Above the kidneys we have the adrenal glands, whose function is to release different hormones. The outer part of the gland, called the adrenal cortex, makes the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. The inner part of the gland, called the adrenal medulla, produces the hormones adrenaline and norepinephrine.
When you are facing a threat, your hypothalamus, a small region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. This system prompts the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises blood pressure, and increases energy supplies. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream and improves glucose use in the brain. Cortisol also reduces functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a “fight or flight” situation (immune, digestive, reproductive, and growth processes). This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.
 
Back in the day, this survival mechanism served us to flee from some dangerous animal. Nowadays, we face stressful situations a little different: not being late for work, finishing projects on time, meetings, not missing the bus to meet friends … In all these situations, our body reacts by becoming alert, hoping to overcome adversity and threats. In the short term, the release of cortisol is very helpful and serves as a form of protection for your body. In combination with adrenaline, the two hormones perform many important tasks in your body. Iin stressful situations, they prepare you to be on top of your game. Cortisol works to improve your performance. Essentially, cortisol activates you in demanding situations. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume normal activities. So far so good.
The reference values for cortisol levels in the blood are:
  • Morning: 5 to 25 µg / dL;
  • End of the day: less than 10 mcg / dL.
  • At very high levels it can reach 80 μg / dl.
 
When stressors are always present and you constantly feel in danger, that fight or flight reaction stays on. Long-term activation of the stress response system and overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that act accordingly can disrupt almost every process in your body. This increases the risk of many health problems, such as:
 
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Insomnia
  • Increase in blood sugar
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased thirst and urinary frequency
  • Memory lapsus
  • Difficulty in learning
  • Little growth
  • Decrease in testosterone
  • Decreased libido
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Increased probability of suffering from osteoporosis
Fortunately, it can reduce excess cortisol production. How does this work?

7 science-backed ways to lower cortisol

 
1.- Cut on sugar: One of the easiest ways to fight high cortisol levels, stress, and weight gain is to cut down on the simple sugars found in cakes, candy, soda, or white bread. Cortisol regulates the level of sugar in the blood. If you eat foods with a lot of sugar, your blood sugar level and consequently your cortisol levels will rise. Ironically, many people eat sugary foods to relax. However, sugar causes an increased release of cortisol. The combination of sugar with white flour, which is used in many cakes and sweets, raises cortisol levels even more. Choosing complex carbohydrates, rich in fiber, protein and healthy fats (whole grains, dairy, legumes or vegetables) will help you lower cortisol levels.
2.- Eat foods rich in phenylalanine and vitamin C: Phenylalanine is an amino acid that helps release dopamine. Dopamine will reduce the urge to eat carbohydrates and sugars and therefore wiil help reduce stress. Phenylalanine is found mostly in protein foods like dairy, eggs, red meat, fish, and some whole grains. Vitamin C, like dopamine, also helps to secrete dopamine and reduce stress. Vitamin C is found in vegetables and fruits.
 
3.- Cut or reduce caffeine intake: It is not just sugar, caffeine also greatly increases the production of cortisol. Coffee, energy drinks, and the like stimulate the adrenal glands, causing them to release more cortisol. Regular caffeine consumption can double the blood cortisol content. A good alternative is green tea. It only contains about a quarter of the caffeine, but at the same time the tea has a relaxing effect thanks to a special amino acid. A study from the Ben-Gurion University School of Health Sciences recently found that the amino acid L-theanine counteracts the production of cortisol and reduces its levels in the blood.
4.- Avoid or limit alcohol intake: A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that men who only had one drink a week saw a 3% increase in their cortisol levels, and those levels can be even higher if they are under tremendous pressure. Since it is a depressant of the nervous system, it can also cause depressive states.
 
5.- Adequate hydration: Drinking enough water a day – around eight glasses – is essential to better regulate cortisol levels. According to a 2018 study of young soccer players, even mild dehydration can lead to an increase in cortisol levels.
 
6.- Moderate-intensity exercise: We are not talking about training as long or as hard as possible. High intensity sport for about 15-20 minutes can stimulate cortisol production. The reason for this is again anchored in the human “fight or flight” response. For example, sprint can trigger a complex stress reaction. Your brain receives the message that you are fleeing danger and proceeds to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. However, if you want to lower your cortisol levels, you should do moderate-intensity exercise. A study published in The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation  has investigated the best ways to lower cortisol levels. The results indicated that relaxing sports, such as yoga or meditation, are the most appropriate. That said, other more active types of sports are definitely appropriate as well. 20 to 30 minutes of light physical activity – such as walking or biking – will reduce your stress and therefore consume excess cortisol.
In addition, including relaxation and meditation exercises in your routine will reduce the risk of experiencing chronic stress, a study from Ohio State University has concluded.
 

7.- Dark chocolate!!!

Believe it or not, dark chocolate keeps cortisol levels stable. A 2019 study published in the journal Antioxidants suggests that consuming just 25 grams of dark chocolate each day may lower overall cortisol levels.

Stressful events are part of life. And you may not be able to change your current situation. But you can take steps to manage how these events affect you. You can learn to identify what stresses you and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in stressful situations. The reward  is peace of mind and perhaps a longer, healthier life.
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7 Ways to Stay Motivated With Your Fitness Goals

Taking the first step towards something important is always a significant milestone. It comes with energy, excitement, and endless possibilities, which are all great things!

What becomes more difficult at times, though, is the moments after you have started, and maybe some of the original feelings have faded away. These are the moments that will make or break whatever you are trying to accomplish. It is when you find that second wind, or when you decide to give up. 

So the better prepared you are for these moments of decision, the more likely you will be to push through and continue on with your journey. That is what this article is all about. 

These 7 ways to stay motivated with your fitness goals will keep you moving forward and onward. They will be there to continue to challenge you and to help you pursue your best.

Inspirational Books and Videos

What you put into yourself is what comes out. So if you want to feel like you can accomplish anything, read about people that have already done so. There are so many success stories out there (fitness and others) where people have overcome seemingly impossible challenges. Reading and watching videos about people that have already conquered their giants will only help to motivate you. You will be able to draw motivation and energy from their stories. And who knows, maybe someday someone will be reading about your inspirational story and will do the same. 

Follow Positive Social Media Accounts

Social media is here to stay (for better or worse), so you might as well make it work for you. In the same way that you want to watch and read positive material, your social media feeds should be the same. So take the time to find some social media influencers that speak to you, and that will help stay motivated to be your best every day. The more you can surround yourself with positive and encouraging messages, the more you will want to be your best self. 

Make a Plan

It is hard to stick to something if you are unsure of what you should be doing. This means that you need to sit down and figure out a fitness plan for you. If you are a beginner, get online and do some research on one of the many great fitness websites out there. Before long, you will have a good understanding of where to start and what you should be doing each week. And as you go, you will continue to learn and adapt as needed. It all starts with first taking the time to chart the right course, though.

Set Goals and Write Them Down

This is similar to making a plan, but slightly different as well. Along with creating a plan, you also want to set short term and long term goals for yourself. By doing this, you will have something to look forward to accomplishing, which will inspire you to keep working. 

When you set your goals, make sure that they are customized to you, and that they are challenging, but also realistic. Secondly, make sure that you write them down somewhere. It could be on a physical piece of paper, a whiteboard, or even on your phone. Just make sure that it is somewhere that you will see it regularly. This will help remind you to stay locked in and on task. 

Find a Fitness Partner

This is not always the easiest thing to do, but it can be a huge gamechanger. If you can find a fitness partner to join you on your journey, it will make a world of difference. You will be able to have someone to challenge you, encourage you, and hold you accountable. Also, on the flip side, you will be able to do the same, and you will also want to work harder so that you don’t let them down. 

If you cannot find a fitness partner because of scheduling or another reason, try and find an accountability partner instead. Ask a close friend or family member to hold you accountable, and then permit them to call you out if you aren’t doing what you should be. Setting up a regularly scheduled check-in time is also encouraged. This will make sure that you have regular accountability. 

Give Yourself a Break

You may not be able to make it to the gym every day, or you may miss a couple of days in a row because something pops up, that is okay. You should do your best to get right back on it as soon as you can, but don’t beat yourself up. Do your best to stay positive, and remember that progress is progress. 

Also, what will really help with this is being able to be flexible with your workouts. For example, if you are unable to get to the gym, but have 30 minutes at night, do some bodyweight exercises, yoga, or something along those lines. It might not be exactly what you wanted to accomplish for the day, but it is still a step in the right direction. 

Enjoy the Process

Anything worth doing takes time, and it is rarely ever going to be done the first time perfectly. It is a process that takes time, so enjoy that process and enjoy the challenges that come with it. The more you can learn to do this, the more you will want to continue on. And not only will you want to continue on, but when you accomplish your goals, you will want to set even bigger ones the next time. 

7 Ways to Stay Motivated With Your Fitness Goals Conclusion

Staying motivated with anything in life is all about how you prepare and organize your daily routine. It is the same way when it comes to fitness. If you do an excellent job with these seven ways to stay motivated and use them regularly, the sky is the limit. It is up to you, though, to make sure that you are staying locked in and setting yourself up for success. 

So have fun with the journey, and continue to improve and challenge yourself physically and in every other area of your life. 

Kyle Ohman

Kyle Ohman

Kyle is a basketball trainer in Tampa, Florida, and is also the CEO of BasketballHQ.com and ListsForAll.com. He enjoys all things fitness, sports, writing, and outdoors.

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25 best fitness blogs

Hello, wonderful people!

Last week I received great news. Flockbrain has selected this blog as one of the 25 best fitness blogs. Flockbrain is a decision making engine that uses machine learning and social curation to find high-quality content.

This list is based on user engagement so YOU guys made this happen!!!! Thank you for every single like, comment, and share.

A lot has happened since this blog started. From a small personal project, this website has become a small business that employs seven people from as many countries. I’m a huge fan of remote work, you know?

It has been many hours of work throughout these years and you have been there all the way.
It occurs to me that, since this recognition is based on your engagement, I could answer or clarify those doubts about fitness or nutrition that haunt your head.

If it is a simple question, I will answer it in the comments and if the question needs an extensive explanation, I will write a post about it. Do you like the idea?

What would you like to know about fitness or nutrition?

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7 Lockdown Tips for Weight Control

Whether we like it or not, most of us are stuck at home for now. This means that we’re getting less exercise, snacking a lot more, and stressing ourselves out. Under these circumstances, weight gain may seem inevitable and weight control almost impossible. But, here’s a reminder. Life hasn’t come to an end, it’s only on pause, and you still want to be beach ready when this is all over. So, instead of wallowing in self-pity or despair, seize this downtime as an opportunity to refocus and put yourself first. Staying focused on weight control or weight management is far from impossible and here are 7 simple weight control tips to help you get started.

Simple Tips for Weight Control During the Lockdown

Staying focused on weight control or weight management may seem almost impossible right now, but it’s not. Here are 7 simple tips for weight control during the lockdown.

1. Meal Prep Matters

Without your regular commute to work and the need to juggle an insane workload, the need for meal planning can seem redundant. In truth, meal planning is even more important during the lockdown. A study published in The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity shows that meal prep can significantly improve diet quality, food variety, balanced nutrition, and weight control. Meal prep allows you to gain greater control over your diet, in terms of both nutrition and portion control. After all, it’s easier to stay the course when you have your food portioned out and ready in advance.

2. Order Healthy Takeout

Most of us have switched, almost entirely, to cooking meals at home. Aside from the fact that it’s a healthy choice, it’s also one that we’ve been forced into as most local restaurants have been shut. That said, many restaurants still offer takeaway and home delivery services. Ordering takeout is perhaps the best way to break the monotony of eating your own home prepped meals and to support local restaurants during the lockdown. Just make sure that you’re mindful about your food choices, opting for green salads and grilled meats instead of deep fried foods, burgers, and pizzas. Be sure to also watch how much you eat, as restaurants tend to serve oversized meals that are actually meant for 2 people.

3. Avoid Emotional Eating

With the uncertainty around us and the loneliness of social distancing, many of us are struggling to cope with comfort food. While snacking can be a great way to avoid overeating and to maintain healthy body weight, stress eating or emotional eating can be extremely unhealthy. Indulging in unhealthy junk foods frequently will inevitably lead to weight gain and a whole lot of health risks. At the same time, it won’t do you much good in terms of boosting your mood as the mood boost is only temporary, but you’re then left with guilt and even stronger food cravings.

4. Fill Up With Fiber, Complex Carbs, and Proteins

If you’re trying to keep a check on body weight, sugar and simple carbs are the worst things to put in your body. Foods that are high in sugar and simple carbs will cause a spike in blood glucose levels. Not only does this increase fat storage, but it also increases the frequency and severity of food cravings. This means cutting back on most ultra-processed foods, especially cookies, donuts, and other desserts. Complex carbs from fresh fruits and veggies are healthier choices and will also increase your fiber intake, keeping you satiated for longer. Healthy proteins from lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish or eggs will also help to reduce food cravings and the risk of overeating.

5. Try Mindful Eating

You’ve probably heard of mindfulness meditation, which is a meditative practice that helps cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. While mindfulness will obviously help cope with lockdown stress, it can also be applied to eating. Mindful eating is the practice of eating in a more focused manner, paying greater attention to your body and to your food. It trains you to become more attuned to your body, helping distinguish between hunger and cravings, creates an appreciation for healthy food, and lowers the risk of overeating or making poor food choices.

6. Keep Moving

There’s no denying the fact that it’s harder to workout and stay motivated when every neighborhood gym is shut. They will be back eventually, but in the meantime you can work up a sweat at a home. You can use online workout videos and tutorials to find routines that are perfectly suited for you. Most of these home workout programs don’t require gym equipment or props, but they can be pretty intensive. In fact, many Instagrammers and other social media users have embraced lockdown fitness challenges to get in shape during the shutdown.

7. Don’t Skimp on Sleep

Sleep may seem like the least important thing when you’re focused on controlling your weight, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Sleep has a direct impact on the levels of hormones that regulate hunger, with studies showing that sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can increase food cravings and the likelihood of weight gain. Aside from weight gain, the lockdown would be a good time to catch up on sleep because of its impact on immunity, which is perhaps your best defense against coronavirus infection.

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Born Tough. Product Review

Today I want to talk about Born Tough, fitness apparel & accessories brand, manufacturer and online retailer based in the US. But they also have stores in the UK and Australia so, no matter where you live.

Shipping is the fastest I’ve seen so far. I placed my order on Wednesday and I received it on Friday! I don’t think it can be done faster. So, the first positive aspect to keep in mind … nobody likes to wait for weeks to receive an order, right?

I got 2 items:

Sleeveless shirt

Great quality fabrics, they fit like a second skin. Design is both, minimalistic and refined. They don´t look like other gaudy fitness apparel that makes you stand out like a neon light and makes you feel embarrassing. You could wear these clothes in your day to day and nobody would notice that they are training clothes. But they are, and extremely comfortable when it comes to sweating. 

Sizing and fabric information can be found on the product description page.

The clothes are very affordable. Sleeveless shirts from 18£, long sleeve shirts from 23£, and you will also find shorts, joggers, bags and accessories at really great prices. 

Note aside: I couldn´t help myself. As soon as I say these cool plastic bags for the shirts, I thought they might have some other use. For example, put the post-workout meal inside. Has your shaker ever opened inside your backpack staining all your clothes? Problem solved! This is just a quick thought, I’m sure you will come up with multiple uses for these bags.

Now, time to show you these shirts while exercising!

From my personal point of view, Born Tough is a great option, due to the quality of its products, elegant design, and reasonable prices. Plus, these days you´ll find a discount code at the top of the website, and you´ll get 40% off. Perfect if you´re looking for Christmas presents. New Year´s Resolutions are coming, and we all love to start the year on new clothes that make us look better!

They also have another 15% Off Sale on Martials Arts & Fighter Apparel and Gear on their sister brand “Elite Sports with stores in USA ,UK, and Australia.