**HOW STRESS AFFECTS YOUR FITNESS AND HEALTH GOALS**
Let me tell you first that there is no one person I have met who do not have stress in life. Stress is a part of life. It is perfectly normal for humans to experience mild stress and it is found to have positive short-term benefits like a quick burst of energy, heightened memory, increased heart rate and lowered sensitivity to pain which can be advantageous in high risk situations. But nowadays people are stressed throughout the day either due to their demanding work, complicated relationships and other family responsibilities. High degree of stress is seen to affect your fitness and health goals. Our body perceives stress by releasing two primary hormones, Adrenaline and Cortisol. Adrenaline (survival hormone) is known as ‘fight or flight’ hormone. The fight-or-flight mechanism is part of human general adaptation system. Adrenaline is helpful when humans encounter life threatening situations. Adrenaline makes your heart beat faster, increases blood flow to the brain & muscles and stimulates the body to make sugar to use for fuel. Cortisol (stress hormone) is a steroid hormone that helps the body respond to stress. Cortisol stimulates the liver to increase production of blood sugar, helps body convert fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into usable energy. As part of the body’s fight-or-flight response, cortisol is released during stressful events to give your body a natural energy boost. Generally, when the pressure or danger has passed these hormones calm down and your body gets back to normal. But when you are under constant stress, the levels of these hormones remain elevated in your body. Increased adrenaline accompanied by increased cortisol, increases your hunger and food cravings. Your body will crave for food, even though your body do not need that extra energy. Elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol leads to mental illness, depression, insulin resistance, weight gain, blood vessel damage, increased blood sugar, high blood pressure, risk of heart attacks or stroke, affects your metabolism, muscle loss, weakness, insomnia, headaches, increased abdominal fat, suppressed thyroid function, problems thinking clearly. Stress also decreases motivation, your mind will be focused on getting through the stress and everything else like sleep, good nutrition, exercise takes back seat. Even if you did workout, stress will make your workout less effective and you will not be able to give your best. Even if you manage to push yourself and give your best, remember exercise is also a form of physical stress that would add to the other sources of stress you are already going through. This will increase your chances of injury and will not allow you to recover completely. So, your goal should not be to get rid of stress in life, instead minimize it. Let us see the simple life choices that you can make to minimize your stress. ◾ Nutrition – Eat good quality and right amount of food. Think about what types of food you need to include to support and improve your health. Stay well hydrated by having good amount of water. Limit your alcohol consumption. Avoid taking caffeine in later part of the day. ◾ Sleep – Set up a fixed routine to get your daily dose of quality sleep. Eliminate use of cellphones, bright lights, computers, loud music and TV right before bedtime. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health and physical health. ◾ Physical Activity – Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin which aids in calmness, happiness and improves self-esteem. Practice any kind of physical activity (walking, yoga, running, weight training etc) you would enjoy to do every day. ◾ Recovery – Rest and recovery allows your body time to repair and strengthen. Recovery also helps in attaining hormonal, neurological and structural balance of your body. ◾ Social connectivity – Talk to friends or family members about stressful situations so you are less likely to dwell on them or you can keep a diary of your feelings and thoughts. ◾ Stay away from Negative People – Seek for positive, supportive and like - minded people. Be wise who you associate with in your life because negative people drain your energy. ◾ Start a hobby – Explore your talent or do something for fun. It can photography, reading, writing, music anything you would like. Performing enjoyable activities during leisure time are found to be associated with lower blood pressure, lowering of your total cortisol, better perception of your physical functions, lower levels of depression and positive psycho-social state. ◾ Practise Meditation or Pranayama - Including mindful meditation or pranayama will help you have mental, physical and spiritual benefits like steady mind, strong will power, clear thinking, patience and wisdom. ◾ Loving yourself first before someone else - In order to have happy and healthy relationship with others you must love yourself first. Self-love, Self-acceptance, Self-compassion is positively tied to your psychological functioning. ◾ Lastly, remain grateful for what is going on well in your life. I hope you will implement these stress management techniques and make necessary lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stress constantly. I am sure your body will thank you later and you will improve your overall quality of life.