Summer is here! And those of us who are looking forward to the beach, here's some good news: Stress reduction is by far the best sweat-free way to shed any unwanted pounds.
Exactly will stress reduction benefit your physique? By learning to relax more often and more effectively, your body's production of the stress hormone, cortisol, will be minimized.
In turn, this will make your metabolism more efficient, according to medical experts. This will allow you to burn more fat, particularly around your middle.
Conversely, sustained stress can cause your body to burn fewer calories. That happens when your body responds to elevated stress by going into survival mode. In other words, your metabolism slows down and your body starts to hoard fat.
However, our biological heritage has only primed us to instinctively react this way to stress from anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes at a time. This is known as the "fight or flight" response. In the wild, as soon as the threat ends, this stress response shuts down.
Now here's the modern-day catch: As humans, we've been conditioned to activate this surge of stress hormones for psychological concerns, as well as physical threats. All manner of uncomfortable situations and perceived problems can evoke this knee-jerk fight or flight reaction for hours (or even days) at a time. This keeps the cortisol flowing long after it should have abated.
Don't Sabotage Your Weight Loss
Even if you're not prone to piling on the pounds in spite of a big stress load because you get plenty of exercise, you'd better watch out: Cortisol can still frustrate your efforts to trim down to anything close to your ideal weight.
Interestingly, if you make an effort to chill your way to a sleeker physique, you'll start to lose interest in foods that are loaded with too many calories.
Additionally, your cortisol levels will decrease if you make a habit of relaxing more often and more effectively. (Try meditation or just "living in the moment" if you're finding it hard to chill out.)
By getting your stress hormones in check, your metabolism will operate more efficiently and allow you to burn more fat, particularly around your middle.
Testosterone Spoiler Alert: Guys (and Ladies) Watch Out!
Among the various other health problems that excess belly fat can cause is low testosterone. This affects nearly a third of all men over the age of 55. And that's not just a problem that's confined to the bedroom.
Low testosterone can quickly cascade into a host of other health issues. (Ladies, don't gloss over this part because your bodies also rely on this all-important fat-burning hormone, albeit to a lesser extent than men.)
Diminished testosterone isn't just the leading cause of a sagging sex drive. Over time, it also leads to less strength and stamina, mild muscle atrophy, weaker bones and low energy.
But the mere act of slimming down can significantly reverse this unhealthy condition, studies have found.
How Unseen Fat Causes Visible Harm
Even if you aren't too worried about a slowly spreading midsection, remember that fighting the flab isn't just about looking good.
Frankly, you need to concern yourself with the insidious, unseen dangers of packing on the pounds. By which I mean, there's a strong correlation between stress and an accumulation of dangerous "visceral" abdominal fat.
This unseen type of flab accumulates deep inside your abdomen, even enveloping your internal organs.And it can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer, according to medical studies.
At the very least, it triggers internal inflammation. Occurring at a cellular level, this type of hidden inflammation is pro-aging.
However, if you manage your stress load better and stay trim, you won't be burdened by this especially dangerous type of body fat.
Summer Time Chilling
So, do yourself a big favour: Chill out! And the more often you do this, the easier it will be to burn calories. In turn, the more weight you lose, the better you will look and feel.
This all amounts to a positive feedback loop, which can help you to stay in fine form for the rest of your life. As a bonus, it might even help you to turn a few heads at the beach.
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When you slouch, you tilt your pelvis forward, pooching out the tummy and giving the appearance of a thicker midsection. These isometric exercises will help you learn how to strengthen your abdominal and gluteal muscles, says Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. "They act like guide wires to keep you from pressing your pelvis forward and arching your back," he adds. Glute Squeeze: Firmly contract your glutes and thighs while standing upright and still. Hold for 10 seconds (remember to breathe!), then relax. Repeat 10 times. Ab Brace: While standing motionless, tighten your abdominal muscles as if you were anticipating a punch to the stomach. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax. Do ten of these. They'll smoothe out the appearance of a potbelly while toning and strengthening the abs, Bryant says.
Reaching your full height adds vertical inches while subtracting horizontal ones, says Jennifer Kries, a Pilates master teacher and a fitness and integrated wellness expert. But after spending most of our time bent over laptops, smart phones, and vertically challenged companions (be they children, friends or pets), standing up straight with our shoulders back can almost feel exaggerated. Improve your posture (and avoid puffing out your chest) with this move. Shining the Heart Open: For this exercise, stand tall with your heels together and your toes apart in Pilates "tripod stance." Squeeze your inner thighs, quads and glutes. With your hands hanging by your sides, turn your palms to face out so that the pinkie finger is glued to the outer edge of your thigh. This opens the chest and shoulders while strengthening the triceps and upper back, Kries says. Hold for one minute or three deep breaths. Repeat 3 times.
The Power Plate, found at more than a thousand gyms, rehab clinics and medical centers across the country, has a vibrating platform that causes deep, involuntary muscle contractions 25 to 50 times per second, according to the company. Holding a pose on the Power Plate engages the muscles significantly more than standing on steady ground, says Will Caton, a certified personal trainer who devises Power Plate workouts for celebrities (without dropping names, let's just say that Caton had one of his clients at "hello"). One study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that regular static exercises on the Power Plate strengthened women's legs as well as moderate resistance training did. Power Plate Squat: Stand on the vibrating plate with your feet hip distance apart and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground. You want to make the muscles burn, Caton says, so hold still for a minute and a half (we felt it after just 30 seconds). Stand up, step off the plate and shake out your legs. Do this 3 times.
Tone your entire body with an intense move that Kries says is derived from Qigong, or the Chinese practice of integrating breath and movement for exercise, healing and meditation. Harnessing Heaven: Stand with your feet a little wider than hip distance apart and your toes pointing out. Working from the soles of your feet upward, engage the quads, outer thighs, glutes and abs. Now lift your arms overhead, but keep them wider than your shoulders, with elbows slightly bent -- as if they're encircling a giant ball. Lift your eyes and look up between your hands. As you continue to reach and extend the lower body, also feel like you're pulling down through your arms (your belly button should be your center of energy). Hold for 3 to 5 minutes. Bring the arms down slowly and relax. Repeat 2 more times.
You've heard it before (and that's because it's true): A strong core helps support your spine and tighten your tummy -- and it's more comfortable than sucking everything in to look slimmer. This do-anywhere exercise was developed by Fred DeVito and Elisabeth Halfpapp, the creators of the ab-busting program Core Fusion. In this position, you'll be toning not only your abdominal muscles but also your chest, shoulders and arms, DeVito says. Standing Plank: Stand with your body angled toward a wall and your feet behind your hips. Lean forward, place your forearms on the wall -- about shoulder-width apart -- and walk your feet back as far as you can without lifting your heels. Press the forearms into the wall for 30 to 60 seconds. Do this 3 times.