Managing the Impact of Chronic Stress on Fitness Goals
By Fitness Editor Paula Jager, CSCS, owner of Crossfit JaguarThose of us familiar with the principles of Traditional Diet know how to eat right for optimum health and performance. We also don’t have to be a rocket scientist these days to know that the combination of weight lifting and high intensity anaerobic exercise combined with proper diet will improve our health and energy levels as well as make us very fit. Again, we must put forth effort and intensity.
Unfortunately, some of us are already doing all these things but are not experiencing the fitness related results we should be. If you are like many people whose diet is where it needs to be 80% of the time and are working correctly/intensely in the gym why aren’t the expected results occurring?
The answer could very well lie in your recovery or lack thereof.
More is not always better when it comes to exercise nor is the chronic stress many of us are under in the 24/7 world in which we live today. This world is far different than our ancestors and the occasional acute stress they were faced with.
We may have advances in medicine, communication and technology that they did not have and our lifespan is longer but the quality is diminished. They had to work very hard for their food, clothing and shelter; yet they did not work as long as we do. They had much more downtime.
Certainly most of us do not have to worry about being attacked by a wild animal or rival tribe but our day to day stressors are of greater frequency and duration.
Our stress is constant and unrelenting.
We have deadlines at work, pressures at home, most mothers today have 2 jobs instead of 1, many parents are single and technology has made us much less mobile. What does this combination do to our body?
Our body’s response to chronic stress is elevated cortisol levels. If our stress is not managed or handled correctly no matter how excellent our nutrition is or properly designed our workouts are we will derail our progress. How do we combat this modern day enemy?
In the words of best selling author Robb Wolf “sleep ya big dummy!” It’s not only the quantity of our sleep but the quality. How many of you go to bed early enough and are in bed that full 7 to 9 hours of recommended sleep yet awake feeling unrefreshed? Still fatigued? Or you awaken in the middle of the night; mind racing unable to go back to sleep or you can’t fall asleep? You will feel as bad and your health as deleteriously affected as you would eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and not exercising. No, this is not a free pass to go get a donut and sit on the couch.
Some suggestions to combat public enemy #1 are to make sure your bedroom is pitch black; no light coming in from anywhere. That includes TV’s, digital clock radios, computers, any type of LCD monitor–you want it pitch black. I had streetlight glaring in through my blinds. This issue was 85% resolved with black out curtains. Pick up a stylish pair at Bed Bath & Beyond or a similar place and sweeten your dream time. Once you get the room pitch black adhere to these pre-bedtime rules. . .
- No television, scary or violent movies prior to falling asleep.
- Eating late at night will bother some people, pay attention to how this affects your sleep.
- Do not exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.
- Do not ingest refined carbohydrates late at night (or at anytime for that matter).
- Avoid caffeine, and alcohol–while it might put you under I can assure you it will affect your sleep usually waking you between the hours of 1 and 4 am.
- Shift workers–do the best you can
Aim for 8 to 9 ½ hours of sleep a night. There are a select few that can get by on less but they are not the norm. Shorten your commute to work if possible, work less and love what you do or make some changes, include time with family and friends, exercise enough to keep your glutes firm and your blood lipids in range but not so much you burnout and make a bad situation worse.
Awaken without an alarm clock or if that is not an option at least get one with music or sounds of nature as opposed to a loud blaring beep, go to bed when the sun goes down and get up with it.
If not resolved, what are the cumulative effects of this chronic stress? Suppressed immune function, chronically elevated blood sugar levels, decreased insulin sensitivity and decreased libido. If improved health is not enough to motivate you what about looking good? If you do not sleep you put a screeching halt to your fat loss, increase your chances of sickness and diabetes and get old and wrinkled before your time.
Manage your stress and sleep and take your efforts in the gym and life overall to the next level. In simpler terms, “sleep ya big dummy!”
About the Author
Paula Jager CSCS and Level 1 CrossFit and CF Nutrition Certified is the owner of CrossFit Jaguar.
Her exercise and nutrition programs yield life changing results.
She can be reached at [email protected]
Since 2002, Sarah has been a Health and Nutrition Educator dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah received a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master of Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, her work has been covered by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.