A recent report from the American Psychological Association indicates that as stress levels continue to rise, Americans are suffering from increased health problems and using detrimental ways of coping like drinking, smoking, eating, gambling or shopping. The human body is equipped to handle acute bouts of stress -- known as the fight or flight response -- but chronic levels start to deteriorate a person's mental health, immune system, and bodily tissues.
According to stress and exercise physiologist Jenny Evans, founder of PowerHouse Performance Coaching, the human body is a beautifully designed system that is being disrupted by high stress that is not properly addressed.
"Our bodies were designed to successfully adapt to short periods of intense physical stress, like hunting, gathering, fighting, or fleeing…short-term stresses [that did not last] days, weeks or years," the fitness expert explains. "The intense physical activity our ancestors got burned off the stress hormones, and then released 'bliss molecules,' like endorphins and endocannabinoids, which restored balance." Americans today suffer from nonstop stress and forgo exercise instead of using it to manage stress. "Our system actually works better if we get short bouts of intense physical activity!" Evans adds.
Our ancestors got physical activity throughout the day as part of their survival. The American survival mode includes long days at work living a mostly sedentary lifestyle.
Evans, who specializes in teaching "long hour office dwellers" to incorporate stress-busting fat-burning exercises throughout their workday, describes the typical American day at work:
"What we have is frequent bouts of stress all day long, with no physical activity to burn them off," Evans says. "The stress hormones continue to circulate throughout the body and result in harmful effects both physically as well as mentally, resulting in what I've termed the 'Cortisol Crisis.'"
How do you feel when you show up the office every day faced with the same annoying coworker who is gunning for your job and making sure you know it? Chances are you get tense and agitated and, though you'd love to punch her out or run off your frustration, you're trapped, ramping up your stress levels even more. Instead of using your body's stress response to your advantage, you force your body into a chronic state of stress that damages your mind and body.
According to Evans, the stress-induced release of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline is a good thing that provides energy to fight or flee, but that Americans have short-circuited the benefits of the stress response because they simply aren't moving. She explains, "You're exposed to lots of stress. Can you fight? Can you flee? No. So what happens to the stress hormones in the body? They're not burned off and continue to circulate throughout the system. Elevated levels of cortisol are scientifically shown to increase body fat around the midsection (which raises our risk of cardiovascular disease), interfere with sleep and can lead to insomnia, decrease immunity, and increase hunger as well as cravings for high sugar, high fat foods."
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