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Friday
Jul212017

3 Stress Busting Tips for Busy People From a Metabolic Expert

When was the last time you lost track of time and were completely in the moment, stress-free, and doing what you love as if you were a kid again? Was it last week, last month or decades ago? Or, perhaps you’re in the camp that legitimately cannot even recall the last time you had a relaxed or carefree moment. For most of us, it’s unlikely that we had a moment like this at some point today.

In today’s culture, we’re constantly connected: shared calendars, social media, text and email dictate how and when we sprint from one responsibility to another.  For those of us who have found a way to prioritize regular workouts and healthier eating in the chaos of the rest of our demands, implementing advice to purposefully manage stress can all too easily fall to the bottom of the totem pole. It’s hard not to laugh sometimes — who really has time for that?

The truth is, adequate sleep, purposefully managed chronic stress, and frequent face-to-face social connection have an enormous impact on your healthy way of life. It’s more than mind over matter — your internal physiology depends on it.1,2,3 In the context of achieving our goals, we look at protein, veggies, and our favorite workout session as must-haves, while thinking of stress management and adequate sleep as optional nice-to-haves. Sadly, these habits and areas are absolutely paramount: they significantly impact how you feel and function. What’s worse is that they could pose a significant barrier between you and the results you’re working so hard to achieve. With that being said, we all know that it’s unrealistic to shelve all of our demands and retreat into an unplanned, indulgent “staycation” with our feet kicked up in the air. We need some real-life, practical tips and tricks to help us support our quest to a healthier state of body and mind. Read on for a three-pronged approach to take a few steps in the right direction.

Start with awareness

Here’s the thing: ignoring your stress will not stop its negative effect on your health and on your waistline. Many of us are perfectionists that procrastinate implementation of a stress management protocol until we can execute it flawlessly, becoming an inversion-pose yoga master that carves out an hour of meditation each morning. Anything less, well, causes extra stress. Sound familiar? The irony of a stress management program that causes you more stress from your own perception that you’re doing it “wrong,” should be enough to get your attention and start a mindset shift.

The beginnings of effective stress management lie in simplicity. How stressed are you on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the absolute highest? Putting an objective number to a subjective concept can help you quantify your stress. Record this stress level just like anything else: week to week, track it with your weigh-ins and nutrition choices. If you track nutrition choices daily, note the day’s stress level. You might be surprised how intertwined it is with the food choices you made and the speed of recovery from your workouts.

Next, make a list of all the things that you love to do — the ones that make it into the “feel-like-a-kid-again” category. Ask yourself, when was the last time you did that thing? For some, it’s bike riding. For others, it’s spending time in nature or reading for pleasure. I’ve even had clients find joy in the silliness of going down a waterslide or having a date night at a trampoline park. At the end of the day, it’s important to realistically work an activity into your schedule on a cadence that is doable to have some mental “reset” time. Start small, and the implementation will evolve in baby steps. Life’s too short not to work in some joyful playtime.

Knowledge is power

Some of us are analytical, black or white thinkers. It may be hard for some to buy into the idea that one’s healthy way of life, athletic performance and healthy body composition involves anything outside of diet and exercise. It’s also easy to view stress in a comparative state when we believe that we are no more stressed than everyone around us. Plus, we tend to downplay the magnitude of our day-to-day stress by comparing it to the backdrop of others who are experiencing devastating life events. It goes without saying that not being in a worst-case scenario should not be our benchmark of healthy stress levels.

The power of educating yourself with the objective, hard data of laboratory testing cannot be understated. Seeing a real, tangible trend in biomarkers like blood sugar, cortisol, DHEA, and testosterone — all of which can be related to your stress levels — speaks volumes and can help you past the resistance to change. Seeing hard numbers as indicators of your unique physiology makes habit change — stress management, in particular — transform from a nice-to-have to a must-have. After seeing lab data, you may find that addressing your chronic stress levels in a purposeful, intentional way is no longer an option. At Life Time, we are strong believers in “test, don’t guess” and in educating yourself about a healthy way of life from the inside out.

Adaptogens

Adapto-what? While it might sound like a new robotic device or piece of technology, “adaptogen” refers to an herb that suggests the potential to increase mental endurance and attention, and support resilience to the neurological, hormonal and immune detriments of excessive stress.4,5 With your physician’s supervision, these compounds have the potential to work into a healthy way of life approach with some surprising benefits.

Our body’s response to stress is incredibly complex. It has an early stage, which involves more catecholamines and a later stage that involves more corticosteroids. Adaptogenic herbs may have structures that are similar to these compounds and exert biological effects on the body.6 Note that a variety of different and unrelated stressors can instigate a hormonal response: processed foods, too much or not enough exercise, infections, perceived stress and more. Supporting a healthy hormone response often takes a multifaceted approach.

Examples of preparations that fall into the category of “adaptogenic herbs” include, but are not limited to, panax ginseng (including Asian white ginseng and Asian red ginseng), American ginseng, Siberian ginseng (sometimes referred to as eleuthero), rhodiola and ashwagandha. The literature published on these compounds is eye-opening, and their claims to potential benefits seem to be linked to countless metabolic processes. The “Panax gingseng” grouping, for example, may have importance in our body’s ability to detoxify from common pollutants.7,8 The Asian white variety may support the immune system and healthy inflammatory processes, along with potential antimicrobial benefits.9 On the other hand, you may find that Asian red ginseng has positive implications for more restful and plentiful sleep and reduced mental fatigue. 10,11

Rhodiola, ashwagandha and eleuthero are commonly used adaptogens as well. In fact, over one thousand studies have been conducted on eleuthero alone between 1960 and 1982.12 It’s no wonder; it’s been associated with improved learning and memory, protective effects on the liver, better blood sugar regulation and an enhanced immune system, as well as adaptations to the stress response in endurance athletes.13,14,15  

Rhodiola has been linked to several areas thought of as stress-protective, including anti-inflammatory processes and impact on mood and outlook.16 And ashwagandha has the propensity to impact the benefits of exercise efforts through muscle mass and strength support and cardiorespiratory endurance.17,18 Similar to other adaptogens, its purported benefits are also far reaching, even with suggesting that, in males, there may be a potential for changes in testosterone and testosterone production-signaling hormones.19,20 

All of that being said, these amazing compounds may have contradications and should be considered in the context of your regular lab testing results, your unique symptom trends, and your health plan under the supervision of your doctor. Keep in mind that their ties to several metabolic processes mean that they have potential power and influence over your body’s response to stress. Therefore, using the appropriate and applicable dosing, timing and duration is crucial. We’ve seen positive reports from clients who have implemented options that are right for them based on the factors outlined above (for example,  Designs for Health Thyroid Synergy which has American ginseng or Designs for Health Adrenotone which has eleuthero, American ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola). As always, any supplementation should be pharmaceutical grade, third party tested, and manufactured under rigorous quality standards.

As we all know, stress management is often easier said than done. As you progress towards your goals, you may find that the persistent busyness of life and lack of unplugged, mental reboot time becomes more and more of a barrier. The good news is that small steps done consistently go a long way. Quantify your stress, run regular lab assessments and include biomarkers that are impacted by it, and consider appropriate supplementation support that is applicable to your unique needs. The best piece of advice is not to allow perfection (in other words, an all-or-nothing approach) be the enemy of progress. You deserve to be your best self.

Have questions about taking the first step? Do you feel stress is holding you back? Curious about lab testing to educate yourself about your metabolism? Reach out to us anytime at weightloss@lifetimefitness.com.

 

Samantha McKinney, RDN, LD, Program Manager 

 

References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864873/
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1482831/
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25910392
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19500070
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3523324/
8. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/cytochrome+P450
9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3659612/table/T001/
10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23872254
11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3659534/
12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/#B16-pharmaceuticals-03-00188
13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/table/pharmaceuticals-03-00188-t001/
14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11798012
15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21301979
16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/table/pharmaceuticals-03-00188-t001/
17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4658772/
18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4687242/
19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19501822/
20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19789214/ 

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 

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