How Chronic Stress Leads to Weight Gain and Heart Disease
When it comes to weight control and cardiovascular health, many tend to focus on diet and exercise and ignore the importance of stress relief. Research shows that even if you take care of yourself physically, chronic stress has the potential to override all of your efforts.
Elevated levels of cortisol are the result of a high-stress life. They set off a chain reaction that leads to a strong appetite, weight gain, and an increased risk of heart attacks. Stellar lab results that impress your doctor won’t save you from disease if you let life’s pressures get the best of you.
Stress is a Fat-Collecting Appetite Stimulant
Stress management is an important factor for successful weight loss. Cortisol is a stress hormone that increases as your anxiety grows. It is associated with a boost in appetite and the production of belly fat.
The tendency to accumulate fat around the belly may depend on a person’s sensitivity to stress. Research shows that women who struggle with excess abdominal fat also have higher levels of cortisol secretion as a result of stress.
An elevated cortisol response also produces a hunger that sends you snacking. In a laboratory study that looked at the relationship between cortisol levels and appetite, researchers found that women who reacted highly to stress consumed more calories compared to those who were able to manage their response to pressure.
Stress Elevates Risk of Heart Attack
There is sufficient data to illustrate the connection between chronic stress and heart health. Those who struggle with many of life’s issues that cause stress–such as relationship issues, work-related problems, or the death of a loved one–have an increased risk of heart attack.
Spikes in cardiac events that follow natural disasters and terrorist attacks are evident, and it’s apparent that repeated episodes of heightened stress cause damage to the heart. On the other hand, researchers can’t recreate in a laboratory the tension that is produced by a heated argument between you and your spouse or the anger you feel when an aggressive driver cuts you off in traffic.
What can be measured are the effects that repeated boosts in cortisol have on your body’s ability to fight off illness and disease. With consistently high cortisol levels, the immune system becomes resistant to the hormone’s signals. This results in inflammation that leaves you susceptible to everything from a common cold to heart disease.
What You Can Do
Making healthy choices in order to maintain weight and avoid disease goes beyond eating nutritious foods and exercising–it also requires effective stress management. Chronic stress takes a toll on every system of the body. A pattern of elevated cortisol levels that result from constant stress stimulate your appetite, increase abdominal fat, and raise your risk of heart attack. Stress management techniques can be found here.
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Dimsdale, Joel E. “Psychological Stress and Cardiovascular Disease.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology 51.13 (2008): 1237-246. Print.
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