Health and wellness is incredibly important to me. In fact, the older I get, the more important it is!
Belly fat is something I thought I struggled with, until I learned I had a uterus the size of a six month pregnancy filled with a benign tumor. Once the tumor (and uterus) was removed, I was a bit more productive about losing belly fat.
In the process, I did a LOT of research into what it was and how to get rid of it. In the past weeks we talked about what belly fat is – and today I want to share the secrets fitness trainers are using to help their clients lose belly fat.
HOWEVER, while I thought this would be one article, it turned out to be so long I’m splitting it into two. So – strategies one through four are today and five through 10 are next week.
One fairly common misconception is that belly fat will disappear when you have rock hard abs. In case of fact, the opposite can be true. You can have rock hard abs and still have belly fat. And, how much fat you carry around your midsection, no matter how hard those muscles are, is an indication of your risk for illness and disease.
One of the primary triggers to put on belly fat or visceral fat is stress. When your cortisol levels spike you tend to gain weight in your midsection and stress is one of the primary reasons your body releases cortisol.
In the fast paced world in which we must all function, some of us have become stress addicts. It’s not that we choose to live a life of stress and anxiety . . . but we might be addicted to the REASON for the stress.
Here are 7 signs that cortisol just might be your drug of choice:
- You aren’t sleeping well and wake up tired.
- You are gaining weight around your middle; you might be in the normal weight range but you still have this extra tire, despite the fact that you eat well and exercise.
- Your back hurts, your head hurts and you just feel blue.
- Your immune system can’t defend against colds and other infections.
- You crave sugar, sugar, sugar
- You don’t even think about sex anymore
- Between your stomach and your anxiety you don’t know which is worse
However, some of the ways you can both relieve stress reactions in the body and reduce visceral fat just might surprise you.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland that sits at the top of the kidneys. This hormone is necessary to maintain your blood pressure, your immune function and is important in the body’s anti-inflammatory process. However, cortisol is also primarily responsible for activating our ‘fight or flight’ response. Under chronic stress these levels remain high and make you more susceptible to disease and visceral weight gain.
So, let’s get started reducing your chronically high cortisol levels, belly fat and improving your overall health.
But. . . . . before we start . . . .
Remember, it took more than one week to put on visceral fat and it will take more than one week to remove it. The strategies that personal trainers use are meant to be life-long lifestyle changes that will not only remove the fat but maintain your new weight, body and health for years to come.
As you go through this list, don’t look for a miracle pill or process you can do 2 times a day for 20 days to get rid of your belly fat. Instead, do each of these 10 steps. Incorporate them one at a time if you have to . . . . but, do them, keep doing them, and you’ll start seeing the results.
Don’t give up! The only one who loses if you give up, is you.
If you mess up one day, you haven’t messed up the whole process. You’ve just messed up one day. There are 365 days in a year. You haven’t failed until you’ve messed up and then refuse to get back to the process you know will work.
Each individual is different. In your case, you may see results in days or it might be weeks. The important thing to remember is that if you don’t give up you WILL SEE RESULTS.
Stress increases your cortisol levels because it triggers a chronic fight or flight response in the body. Many of the following strategies are aimed at reducing both your stress levels and your cortisol levels to reduce the amount of belly fat that you have.
There are several ways different techniques you can use to reduce your perception of stress. Slowing your breathing during the middle of stressful situations will help to reduce the tension in your body. Focus on exhaling your breath slow and steady. Tell yourself to ‘slow down’ and relax. Over time you’ll find that you are expert at releasing stress and moving forward. You’ll also be more productive and creative in finding solutions to the stress if your body isn’t flooded with cortisol.
Close your eyes for a few minutes and imagine the stressful situation being trapped in a balloon and floating away. The idea is not to eliminate the situation but to reduce your perceived stress over the situation so you are better able to find creative solutions.
Play soothing music during the times of the day when you are most stressed. This may not be your favorite type of music, but it should be music that helps your mind and body to relax. Use an mp3 player if playing music out loud is not acceptable.
Consider seeing a psychotherapist to learn more ways of reducing your perception of stress during stressful situations.
Believe it or not, water is one of the easiest ways to reduce your stress and reduce the physical stress on your body. More than 50% of your body is made up of fluids. Your kidneys need water to flush toxins out of your body. All of your organs, including your brain, need water to function.
Researchers have found that when the body is dehydrated it will release cortisol. (5) The cortisol will reduce your ability to deal with everyday stress, which in turn triggers the release of more cortisol. It’s a vicious cycle.
The normal water requirement for your body is 8 8-oz glasses or 8- 240 cc glasses of water per day. That requirement goes up if you drink any fluids that are naturally dehydrating, such as alcohol or caffeinated drinks, if you exercise intensely or if you live in a very warm climate.
Get in the habit of drinking about 12 ounces or 360 cc of water every couple of hours. You might measure out the amount of water you want to drink in a day and place it in a pitcher on the counter or in the refrigerator if you enjoy cold water. Be sure to drink the entire pitcher by the end of the day.
If you like flavored water, add a slice of lemon or lime to the pitcher. Drink cold water if you like it because it burns more calories than room temperature water. But, it’s more important to drink the water than to drink it cold. Make drinking a glass of water as soon as you get up a morning ritual. Most of us are dehydrated by the time we get out of bed in the morning.
It is an easy method of reducing the amount of cortisol your body excretes, reducing the toxic load on your kidneys and keeping your skin cells plump and youthful looking. However, all of your stress related factors won’t automatically disappear, but your body will be better able to handle the stress of dealing with them.
Exercise has more than just one benefit. And there is more than just one type of exercise you can do to reduce your cortisol levels and burn off your belly fat.
In the first place, exercise will help you to reduce your overall stress level and therefore reduce the amount of cortisol released each day. However, new research has found that cardio exercises greater than 20 or 30 minutes will have the opposite effect on your body!
Long steady-state cardio exercising – running, rowing, biking, jogging, treadmill and elliptical trainers to name a few – will actually help your body to store more belly fat because it raises your level of cortisol!
The amount of time you should spend doing cardio activities will vary depending upon who you listen to – but the best person to listen to is your own body. If you haven’t been able to peel off the pounds after pounding away at cardio activities for 30 minutes or more every day then it’s probably time to change it up.
Your body will become accustomed to doing the same thing over and over each day – and therefore adapt to the calorie burn. This means, to get the calorie burn you are looking for you have to change out your routine.
Add resistance training to your weekly program. Never work the same muscle groups two days in a row, but put at least 48 hours between workouts. Don’t do resistance training for more than 40 minutes at a time or you will also raise your cortisol levels.
Add interval training or a more relaxed form of exercise.
In the case of interval training you can use the Pace program, during which you exercise for 20 minutes doing whatever exercise you enjoy. The goal is to do 3 minutes of warm up and 3 minutes of cool down. Between those two you’ll do 30 seconds as fast and as hard as you can and then 90 seconds of cool down. Do eight of those segments, end with 3 minutes of cool down and you are done!
Your body will burn calories for hours after a pace program and you probably won’t secrete any cortisol.
If a more relaxed form of exercise is your style, then aim for Tai Chi or Yoga. One study showed that yoga helped cortisol levels to become more normalized in people who suffered from fibromyalgia. (6) Another study found that although salivary cortisol was raised during Tai Chi the subjects experienced less tension, depression, anger, fatigue and anxiety. They felt more vigorous and had less total mood disturbance. (7)
Stay moving at work too. If you have a desk job it will help to get up every hour and walk around the office for 5 minutes. Getting your blood moving will increase your productivity, reduce your appetite, reduce your fatigue and keep your metabolism running. If you can manage to set a timer on the computer or your watch and get up every 20 or 30 minutes that’s even better.
Another exercise that gives you both cardiovascular exercise, increases the bond between you and your significant other and reduces your stress level is sex. Initial cortisol levels will increase, but they are short-term surges that increase neurogenesis in the brain.
One very simple method of controlling stress is to get enough sleep each night, at least 7-8 hours. Losing sleep can alter the production of hormones and affect your cortisol levels, as well as leave you less capable of dealing with your daily stress. In the overnight hours your cortisol levels should drop which allows your body a time to repair and recharge. Lack of sleep also leads to other debilitating diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers have found sleep deprivation to increase cortisol levels by 45 percent. This increase is significant and has implications for immune compromise, cognitive impairment and the disruption of your metabolism. (8)
There are several methods you might use to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
- Avoid using the computer or watching television at least 30 minutes before going to bed. Instead, pick up a good book or magazine and get caught up on your reading. The rapidly moving images on the screen (including flashing pixels on the computer) will increase the activity of your brain and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Light will disrupt the quality of your sleep. While you might BE asleep the quality will not be the same. Use window blinds or draperies that darken the room and consider using a sleep mask, especially if you work nights and must sleep during the day.
- Do NOT exercise within an hour of going to bed. Exercise will increase your energy levels and cortisol levels making it difficult to fall asleep.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If your room is too warm or too cold it can prevent your body temperature from reaching the ideal temperature for sleep. Piling on the blankets in a cold room can help, but if the room is too warm it can significantly reduce the quality and quantity of your rest.
- Take a warm bath or shower about 30 minutes before bed. This will help to relax your body and your mind from the stresses of daily life. Consider eating a light, high protein snack within 30 minutes of going to bed.
- Use the bed for sleep only. Don’t watch television or work in bed. This is a place of rest and sleep. You might consider reading something light and non-technical within 15 to 30 minutes in bed and before sleep.
More next week . . .