You know you have hormones, that men and women have slightly different hormones, and that hormone balance is important for your emotional and physical health, but do you really know what hormones are or what they are supposed to do? In scientific terms, hormones are signaling molecules produced by glands in multicellular organisms that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs in order to regulate physiology and behaviour.
In laymen’s terms, hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They travel through your bloodstream to reach your tissues or organs and tell them what to do. They affect many different processes, including growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, and mood. Your glands (such as your pituitary, pineal, and thyroid) produce these hormones. In addition, men produce hormones in their testes and women produce them in their ovaries.
Hormones are powerful messengers, and it takes only a tiny amount of them to cause big changes in cells or even your whole body. That’s why too much or too little of a particular hormone can cause serious health problems.
One hormone you’ve probably heard of before is cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone your body releases in response to stress.
When your body produces cortisol, it functions to increase your blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate, as well as decrease bone formation. Unfortunately, high levels of cortisol have been linked to increased levels of abdominal fat. If you are holding onto a little extra weight around your midsection, too much cortisol could be to blame.
Want to reduce cortisol and get rid of excess belly fat? Here are 3 things you can start doing today:
1. Work less. New research shows that if you work 48+ hours per week, your likelihood of consuming excess alcohol goes up dramatically. Stress and alcohol consumption both increase levels of cortisol which in turn tell your body to store more fat around your midsection. Not to mention how the extra calories you’re receiving from those drinks is also going to cost you once you hit the scale. Trimming back your working hours while choosing exercise for stress relief (instead of alcohol) will work wonders for your stress levels and your waistline.
2. Don’t consume caffeine after 6 PM. When you consume caffeine at night, it’s likely to affect the quality of your sleep. Quality, uninterrupted sleep is essential for cortisol reduction. Opt for caffeine free tea instead. You’ll wake more refreshed after a good nights sleep, and your body will have lowered your levels of cortisol over the course of the night.
3. Take time to “unplug.” A recent study out of Canada showed that those who were constantly in contact with technology (TV, smart phones, computers, etc) throughout their day showed significantly higher symptoms of stress than those who took time to “unplug” during designated times each day. As you know, stress means your body is creating more cortisol. Schedule device-free time every day to unwind and relax.
It might sound difficult to incorporate these three pieces of advice if you have a hectic work schedule that requires you to work long hours, stay up late, and sit at a computer most of the time. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t start incorporating these things in small ways. Start with a few 5-minute breaks throughout your day where you close your eyes, and step away from your computer. Remember:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu; Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)