Weight Gain Linked to Stress
Exercise Stress Away
It's Only Natural: Our Innate Response to Stress continued...
"But when was the last time you responded to stress with
such physicality?" Peeke asks. In today's modern world, this elegant
survival mechanism may be an anachronism that causes the body to refuel when it
doesn't need to.
Yet, it's not just quick, unsettling episodes that can prove
problematic, says Peeke. Feeling stressed-out over a long period of time may be
fattening, too: Sustained stress keeps cortisol, that cursed hunger promoter,
elevated and that keeps the appetite up, too.
And there's another factor as well. If stress and cortisol
levels stay high, so will insulin levels, says Robert M. Sapolsky, PhD, a
professor of biological sciences and neuroscience at Stanford University.
"The net effect of this will be increased fat deposition in a certain part
of the body."
And that body part generally is the waistline. A recent study
conducted by researchers at Yale University and published in the September 2000
issue of Psychosomatic Medicine compared 30 women who stored fat
primarily in their abdomens with 29 women who stored it mostly in their hips.
They found that the women with belly fat reported feeling more threatened by
stressful tasks and having more stressful lives. They also produced higher
levels of cortisol than the women with fat on their hips. And that, the authors
reasoned, suggests that cortisol causes fat to be stored in the center of the
Peeke's own work points to another reason stressed-out women
may store fat in the abdomen. "Our research has shown that the fat cells
deep in the belly are richer in stress hormone receptors than fat cells
elsewhere in the body," Peeke says. "And it makes sense that fat would
be stored in the abdomen, close to the liver, where it can be quickly accessed
for conversion into energy."
That may not only be distressing for some women, but dangerous:
A Harvard Medical School study published in the December 1998 issue of The
Journal of the American Medical Association found that abdominal fat was
strongly associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Why exercise helps
The idea that exercise is a crucial tool in the fight against
weight gain isn't new. It does, after all, burn calories. But Peeke contends
that exercise also is beneficial because it helps cut stress, which in turn
helps you keep weight off.
"During vigorous exercise, the body secretes biochemicals
called beta endorphins, which calm you down and decrease the levels of stress
hormones in your body," she says. How much exercise does it take? That
depends, Peeke says. "Some people need more vigor than others," she
says, "but for some, even a vigorous 10-minute walk will work."