It’s no wonder April is National Stress Month – taxes are due, the long winter may have taken a toll on you, or perhaps you’ve shed your cold weather layers only to find your body in a different shape than you last saw it.   When we’re stressed out many of us may reach for French fries, donuts, alcohol or cigarettes as well as cut corners by skipping workouts – things that actually layer on more stress!

This month’s KARE 11 Showcase Minnesota Health & Fitness segment provides you with simple strategies to physiologically minimize the stress on your body as well as to increase your overall resiliency to stress.

1.  Going too long without eating is a stress on the body.  When blood glucose levels drop too low the body goes into survival mode, which can also be called fat storage mode.  Your body catabolizes muscle mass as fuel and tries to hang on to as much fat as possible.  You’re losing muscle and gaining fat.  Excess fat also places stress on the body.

WHAT TO DO:  Eat a small meal or snack about every 3 hours to keep blood glucose levels more consistent and in an ideal range.  You’ll keep the body out of survival mode, preserve muscle mass and have better energy.

2.  Eating too much places stress on the body.  Going too long without eating typically leads to overeating.  When there’s too much glucose in the system your body has to work like crazy to try and get levels back into an ideal range.  More insulin has to be produced to get glucose out of the blood stream and into the cells, which over time can make the body less sensitive or resistant to insulin.  This places additional stress on the pancreas to work harder to produce more insulin.  Any glucose over and above what the brain and muscles need to function is stored away in the fat cells, and again, excess fat is a stress on the body.

WHAT TO DO:  Only eat to the point where you feel satisfied to just under feeling full.  Eating about every 3 hours prevents you from getting so hungry you overeat.

3.  Eating high sugar snacks or treats can be stressful to the body.  When we go too long without eating or feel stressed out we often crave high sugar foods.  Unfortunately high sugar foods are high glycemic, which means the glucose from the food is released into the blood stream very quickly.  These spikes in blood glucose also require the body to produce more insulin, and typically result in a sugar crash that leads to us eating more sugary foods.

WHAT TO DO:  Eat snacks or treats that are low glycemic.  Low glycemic foods are broken down into glucose and released into the blood stream more slowly over time so there’s no spike in blood glucose levels.  Three things will make a food low glycemic:  if it contains fat, fiber or protein.  For instance nuts, cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, hummus, dried fruit or chocolate covered peanuts would all be low glycemic snacks that are quick, easy and convenient.

4.  Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine all stimulate the stress response.  We may turn to these things during times of tension, but they end up increasing stress in the body.

WHAT TO DO:  Choose a non-alcoholic version if you’re really craving the flavor of the beverage or have something else to drink like flavored carbonated water.  Drink decaffeinated coffee or tea.  Quitting smoking while under intense stress may not be reasonable, but could you reduce the amount of nicotine intake?

5.  Recreate the Fight or Flight response.  Stress results in Fight or Flight and the ensuing hormone release to give you energy to fight or flee.  The intense physical activity of fighting and/or fleeing burns off the stress hormones and releases the feel good hormones, restoring balance to the body.

WHAT TO DO:  Squeeze in short bursts of intense physical activity like interval training, speed walking, sprinting up flights of stairs, running or PowerHouse Hit the Deck.  Not only does it burn off the stress hormones, it also trains the body to be more resilient to stress – you’re training your heart rate to recover from the stress of exercise and you’re raising the threshold for what your body perceives to be a stressful event.

Stress can and does affect us mentally and emotionally, but it is also a physiological event that affects the body’s chemistry.  There are things we can do to minimize stress on the body as well as to recover from stress more quickly and efficiently, and I hope you find these tips to be helpful!