Although a balanced diet and exercise are two major factors in maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, sleep deprivation and stress can greatly impact our immune system, energy levels, focus and concentration, and the ability to fight that dreaded BELLY FAT.

GET MORE SLEEP

If you’re among the 30% of Americans who sleep less than 6 hours a night, there’s one simple way to whittle your waistline… catch more Zzzz’s.

A 7-year study of 70,000 men and women found that those who slept 5 hours or less a night were 30% more likely to be 30 pounds or more overweight and suffer more overall stress. The National Institutes of Health (NH) suggests that adults should sleep 7-8 hours a night for optimal health.

Here are two qualified recommendations to help keep your waistline trim and your overall health in check.

LOWER YOUR STRESS LEVELS

I think we can all agree that “muffin tops” (the fat hanging over the waist of a too tight pair of pants) and “pot-bellies” aren’t attractive. Still, when it comes to excess belly fat, the situation is much more serious than how we look. Excess belly fat has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

When you have stress, your body releases certain “fight-or-flight” hormones that are produced in the adrenal glands: cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine. When you first get stressed, these hormones kick into gear.

Norepinephrine tells your body to stop producing insulin so that you can have plenty of fast acting blood glucose ready. Epinephrine will relax the muscles in your stomach and intestines and decrease blood flow to these organs. Once the stressor has passed, cortisol tells the body to stop producing these hormones and to go back to digesting regularly. It’s normal for your cortisol levels to go up and down throughout the day, but when you are chronically stressed, your cortisol levels go up, and stay there.

When your stress and cortisol levels are high, the body actually resists weight loss. Your body thinks times are hard and you might starve, so it hoards the fat you eat. Cortisol will also take fat from healthier areas, like your butt and hips, and move it to your abdomen (thus creating the Big-Gut / No-Butt syndrome). In the process, it turns once healthy peripheral fat into unhealthy visceral fat (the fat in your abdomen that surrounds your organs). This belly fat then leads to more cortisol production. The more belly fat you have, the more cortisol you will have, and the cycle goes on and on.

So in addition to getting more sleep, find effective ways to reduce your stress, such as listening to relaxing music, taking an evening stroll, hitting the gym for an intense workout, watching a funny movie (it is often said that laughter is the best medicine), and spending time with a loved one… Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently found that (the cuddle cure) holding hands and hugging can measurably reduce stress.

This has been another “Helpful Tips & Tools” post from iDefensiveDriving.com. We hope to see you well rested and healthy, and driving “safely” in Texas.