Power Pair: Cortisol & Yoga
Couple Goal: To Fight Stress
Anytime you’re faced with a stressful sitch, cortisol steps up. The sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, releasing cortisol to tell your body you’re in danger (yeah, even if it is just your boss hammering you for that report). This immediately elevates your blood pressure and heart rate, and releases glucose into the blood so you have the energy to “fight or flee” from the stress. Oh, and another thing? High cortisol levels can ramp up appetite. In general, the hormone decreases after it has helped you deal with the stress but, in some people, levels remain high. Left unchecked, chronically elevated cortisol may start to affect other hormones and wreak havoc on your metabolism. Not so ideal.
Hack It: Big week in the office? Hit the yoga mat (or go for a walk in nature) to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (the chill-out, rest-and-digest part), which slows down your heart rate and clears your mind. Besides challenging and stretching your muscles, yoga can reduce stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, as well as stimulate brain-calming GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). Aaaand, chill.
Power Pair: Insulin & HIIT
Couple Goal: To Torch Fat
As blood glucose levels rise (say, when you’ve eaten starchy food or sugars – hey, all-you-can-eat Italian), your pancreas pumps out insulin to clear it. All good. But, depending on the type and quantity of carbs you eat, over time your body can become less sensitive to this rush of insulin. Result? Your sugar levels remain elevated, offering a readily available fuel source (glucose) to your body. And that means your body is less likely to burn fat.
Hack It: While any type of exercise improves insulin sensitivity, HIIT training scores better results in less time. How come? During HIIT, it’s your fast-twitch muscle fibres that do most of the work. This stimulates the muscles to take up glucose from your blood to be used as fuel. And when they’ve finished with that, your body then looks to its fat stores. In a study of people with impaired glucose metabolism, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, insulin sensitivity improved when participants did moderate intensity training or HIIT-style workouts over a two-week period. However, the moderate group saw only half the improvement experienced by the HIIT group. Just don’t go OTT, though: HIIT can increase cortisol levels that can actually worsen insulin resistance. Instead, strike a balance with one or two sessions a week, mixed with lower-intensity workouts.
Power Pair: Oestrogen & Weight Training
Couple Goal: To Build Muscle
Let’s hear it for oestrogen – the ultimate multitasker when it comes to your female sex hormones. Although it plays a huge role in areas such as our menstrual cycle and bone health, too much (aka oestrogen dominance – caused by things like certain meds and hormone therapies, or levels of its sister hormone progesterone being out of whack) isn’t so good. According to Dr Libby Weaver, nutritional biochemist and author of The Beauty Guide: Your Body, Biochemistry & Beliefs, having too much oestrogen in the body can cause symptoms including weight-loss resistance and PMS.
Hack It: Levels of oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate continuously, so get to know your flow. Oestrogen is high during the first two weeks of your cycle (the follicular phase) while sleepinessinducing progesterone drops, so your energy’s on point. This makes it prime time to hit the weights. A study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that doing more weight-based training in the follicular phase led to greater strength gains. Fast forward to the last two weeks of your cycle (the luteal phase – just before your period starts) and oestrogen levels are down while progesterone is up, so you’ll probably feel more wiped out. That’s when you may prefer to get your cardio on eg. walking, swimming or cycling. What’s more, aerobic exercise can help ease PMS symptoms, a study in BMC Women’s Health found. We’ll take that!