By Matt Evans
It's a stressful time to be doing anything right now. Although the coronavirus vaccine programmes rolling out across the world have the virus in retreat, the background anxiety of the pandemic is still very much alive. Thanks to all the job losses, health problems and mental health issues that have emerged as a result of the pandemic, we're all more stressed than ever.
If we're stressed all the time, it can lead to an excess amount of a hormone in our body called cortisol, which is more commonly known as "the stress hormone". Cortisol production is a natural process, but too much of it can play havoc with our moods, sense of self, and even our waistlines.
A study from scientists at Yale University sought to examine cortisol's link with fat. Studying slender premenopausal women, the scientists found those with a greater predicator of stress tended to be the ones with the most abdominal fat, as well as the ones who felt worse about themselves.
"We found that women with greater abdominal fat had more negative moods and higher levels of life stress," said Elissa S. Epel, Ph.D., lead investigator on the study. "Greater exposure to life stress or psychological vulnerability to stress may explain their enhanced cortisol reactivity. In turn, their cortisol exposure may have led them to accumulate greater abdominal fat."
So how can we prevent a build-up of cortisol? One way is to decrease our exposure to "blue light", which is the light emitted from screens such as a laptop, phone or television. A study published in Germany found excess blue light exposure can increase our production of cortisol and it can also suppress melatonin, disrupting our natural sleep-wake cycles, so getting a good night's sleep is also essential.
Of course, two of the best ways to relax and ease the levels of cortisol in your body are yoga and meditation. Learning how to meditate will suppress your stress hormones and slow yourself down a bit, and is an excellent tool to fall back on either as a daily practice, or when you feel the stress overwhelming you.
Yoga combines this zen aspect with gentle (and sometimes vigorous) exercise and stretching, which is known to activate the reward centres in your brain, releasing dopamine and serotonin.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website.
Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
How to use an air fryer: Types of models, tips on cooking and common mistakes
Nutrition Here’s the skinny (quite literally) on air fryers, how they work, what to cook in them and how to get the most out of them
By Patricia Carswell •
Adele lost 100 pounds without dieting by exercising three times a day
Weight Loss British singer-songwriter Adele started exercising three times a day for her mental health and lost weight while doing so
By Jessica Downey •