According to celebrity personal trainer James Duigan, author of The Clean and Lean Diet, taking the wrong approach to fitness can do you more harm than good. "If exercising is making you stressed - either because you're doing too much of it or you're running around trying to fit in your gym class after work - then it might be making you fat," he warns.
Duigan blames the excess cortisol the body produces when we're stressed. Although it's designed to ensure we have a ready supply of energy - when we suffer too much stress, or we're subject to it almost constantly, the raised blood sugar that cortisol triggers can lead to fat storage.
To drop your stress levels and hit your weight loss goals, take steps to control your cortisol...
Go to work on an egg
Kick-start your day with a protein-based breakfast such as scrambled egg on toast. Aside from exercise, we experience the greatest natural surge of cortisol early in the morning.
Not eating breakfast, or just having a high sugar snack, can upset your blood sugar levels. Studies from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany reveal that a high protein meal first thing can help lower cortisol, balance blood sugar and provide a feeling of fullness.
Make for the weights
Cardio-based gym sessions can help you work up a sweat, but they can also upset your metabolic rate - the rate at which you burn calories throughout the day - according to reports from the University of Sunderland. "It can leave your body telling you it wants more calories than you need," says David Archer, lecturer in exercise physiology.
Instead banish bingo wings and battle the build up of fat around the tummy by lifting weights twice a week for one hour sessions. Free weights allow more flexible movement than gym machines to help you build a bit of muscle. Studies by the US' National Institutes of Health show that since muscle burns more calories than fat, increasing muscle mass means losing more calories.
Stretch out your exercise
Neurology experts at the Thomas Jefferson Medical College in the US have found that while a hectic dash to the gym for a gruelling cardio session can raise your stress levels, doing yoga classes instead will damp down that cortisol.
Studies from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in the US, also show that regular yoga practice leads to more mindful eating. In a 10-year-long study researchers noted that people who practice yoga gained less weight than those who did not.
Tune in to a fun film
Switching off the TV, or at least not eating in front of it, eases anxiety levels and according to US researchers stops you eating more than you need to.
But once you have finished your meal, tune in to the comedy channel or watch a funny film on DVD. Researchers at the Loma University Medical Center in California, found that blood samples taken from subjects who watched a one-hour comedy show revealed significantly lower levels of cortisol when compared to those who hadn't watch the show.
Try trekking Japanese
From the land that gave us food you eat from a conveyor belt comes an ideal stress-busting move that's all the rage.
Shinrin-yoku, which literally translates as 'Forest bathing', is basically a walk in the woods that's prescribed by alternative health experts for stressed out Japanese employees. Studies from the University of Essex have also have shown that taking a walk in the wilds can help lower cortisol levels and your blood pressure more than walking city streets can.
Sleep more soundly
Using blackout curtains and removing electrical appliances from your bedroom have been shown to help people combat insomnia or poor quality sleep.
That's useful for stressed out types especially since Pennsylvania State University College researchers found that insomnia sufferers have also been found to secrete high amounts of cortisol when compared to sound sleepers. Making your bedroom more conducive to sleep and easing off the caffeine later in the day can help boost sleep and cut stress.
Make your snack count
When you are working out at the gym, reduce your risk of getting fatter instead of fitter by avoiding one gym machine in particular - the vending one.
Post-workout drinks and high-energy snack bars on sale at gyms can contain at least 300 calories a time - that's as much as you'll have burned off doing a 40-minute low-impact aerobics class. On top of that raised cortisol from your workout, the sugar rush you get can upset your metabolism. Instead fix your own low-calorie smoothie or have a natural sugar fruit for a snack.
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