Control Your Stress Hormones for a Better Body, More Happiness, and Better Health

By Matt Brereton-Patel July 2, 2014 March 4th, 2019 Movement & Fitness

Is personal training all about ‘smashing’ clients as hard as possible in order to get results?

While working hard, challenging our clients, and having fun in the gym is part of the picture, truly helping people to be successful in all realms of their lives involves intelligent analysis and protocol design that goes far beyond the ‘go hard or go home’ philosophy often espoused by personal trainers.

When it comes to intelligent protocol design, we need to consider a range of potential issues that can hold us back from achieving body composition and health success, and one of these issues is stress, and stress hormones.

Modernity sucks?

From an evolutionary standpoint, humans are not designed to be consistently stressed (a chronic adaptive state). Unfortunately, modern life has different ideas, and the amount of stress we’re subjected to every day is at odds with our human design – with an often dire impact on body composition, health, and happiness.

The hormonal fallout

The stress hormone cortisol is one of our major fat storage hormones, and also has a direct relationship with blood sugar and insulin. Have you ever noticed that you go for sugar or carbs when stressed? It’s part of your hardwired evolutionary response.

Even worse, when you have elevated cortisol, you’ll preferentially store that sugar as fat. Stress hormones also directly impact on sleep, energy levels, cognitive function, thyroid hormones and metabolism, male and female hormonal health (and fertility), levels of inflammation, and professional performance.

Stress hormone health also dictates your ability to handle stress positively and take situations in your stride. In our practice, with hundreds of stress hormone tests performed to date, adrenal gland health (and HPA axis health in general) is very often at the root of other health, body composition and happiness challenges.

So what can we do?

Take a look at the graphs below, these are real results from testing we have conducted with our clients (after vitamin D, stress hormone profiling is our most recommended test – for good reason).  


Cortisol Graph 1 – first stage of stress hormone dysfunction

Stage 1 - Adrenal DysfunctionIn this graph you can clearly see that every cortisol sample was above the optimal range, indicating that the body is attempting to adapt to acute stress. DHEA is within the normal range.

While you can keep cortisol output high for some time, eventually the wheels will most likely fall off the wagon.




Cortisol Graph 2 – long term failure to adapt, total burnout

Stage 4 - HPA DysfunctionIn this graph, every cortisol sample was below the optimal range, while DHEA is also below the optimal range, indicating long term exposure to chronic stressors, and total adrenal / HPA axis burnout – not pretty!

Re-balancing stress hormones through appropriate exercise, nutrition, supplement and lifestyle protocols can result in a better body, more happiness, better performance at work, better personal relationships, and an all round better quality of life.

Don’t forget though, that stress isn’t just about the 150 emails that landed in your inbox this morning – poor food and drink choices stress your body, as do lack of sleep and water, poor relationships and mental outlook. Remember, too, that exercise also stresses your body – more does not always equal better, and personal trainers who don’t assess stress load prior to designing an exercise protocol are doing a disservice to their clients.

Actively taking control of, and managing, these factors, can have a profound effect on your stress hormones, leading to a better body and a better quality of life!

Stress summates

Another important thing to bear in mind is that the response to stress (sympathetic nervous system dominance) is the same regardless of the stressor. Which in plain English means that no matter the source of your stress, whether it’s a food intolerance, work deadlines, relationships, inappropriate exercise, poor food choices, lack of sleep, finances, the daily commute, an injury – or anything else (!), your body just sees it as stress, and responds in the same way.

The wrap

Stress – from all sources – has the ability to make you fat, ruin your health, and significantly reduce quality (and quantity) of your life. It’s worth taking some time out to actively think about and gain perspective on the factors in your life that add to your total stress load, identify the strategies that can help you, and write down a plan to implement them!

One of my favourite strategies is to listen to the Naturespace app (iTunes) (Android) on the way back from the gym after a long day (whoever said that owning a personal training facility would be glamorous is a downright liar!) – it immediately provides relaxation, I can feel my breathing deepen, and my mind start to relax.

Want to know more about stress? Further reading:

The Anatomy of Stress

The Beginners Guide to Meditation

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

The Cortisol Connection


To your lean, healthy, optimised future,

Matt & Dee


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