Tag Archives: cortisol

Good friends are great for your health

Relaxation and time out are fundamental ingredients for a successful Fitness Makeover. Not that we need any reasons to hang out with our favourite people in the world but sometimes we get so caught up with our lives that we forget to stay in touch. We really ought to make a point to never sacrifice time with our friends in favour of other pursuits.

Science offers the theory that we are not so much what we eat but who we eat with… meaning that if you are on a journey to reshape your body you might get a higher chance of success if you hang out with friends who are already lean and have succeeded at their Fitness Makeover projects. They will be able to inspire you and help you avoid common pitfalls, plus they will effortlessly set an example for how to make the best choices to support your goals.

In Italy we have a proverb that says “She who finds a friend, finds a treasure” – here are some reasons why I believe this to be true:

Good friends will lift you up with the rising tide

Ever started up on a Fitness Makeover project on your own and noticed your initial motivation waning as the days go by until it’s all but a distant memory? Well a good friend will hold you accountable to your declared goals and will show up on time on exercise days to make sure you don’t skip any. Let’s face it: going out for a walk with a friend is more fun than going on your own. Introspection time is also great for you and shouldn’t be discarded altogether as we do need some time alone to recharge our emotional batteries. But have you noticed how 20 minutes of intense exercise feel like 2 minutes when you are with a good friend?

I am not suggesting that you should rely entirely on your friend(s) for motivation, you must have some of that within you to begin with but isn’t it a great place to be when you can be each other’s rock and help each other celebrate every little smidgen of progress?

Good friends can increase your lifespan

Being able to offload your most troublesome thoughts with a friend or 10 is very important when we are feeling under the weather. Stress has detrimental effects on our body and being able to share and receive comfort from those in our corner can be incredibly soothing and reassuring. As humans we are meant to be naturally social and social media has brought with it the opportunity to communicate and share our thoughts with thousands of people around the world at any one time.

Although online communities can be a great place to discuss any aspect of our lives, they can also highlight the fact that at the end of the day we can be social online but still be home alone. There is no real substitute for sitting at a table with real people, the same people that have seen us at our worst whilst stumbling on the mess we left on the floor because we have been feeling under the weather. There is no Facebook chat that can be as beneficial as a hug or a shoulder rub from a trusted friend.

Research has shown that vibrant social relationships can increase your chances of survival by 50% so for goodness’ sake go out and have fun with your friends! Your lifespan depends on it! 🙂

Good friends blowing confetti together

Good friends are great for your health

There is scientific evidence that strong social relationship can significantly help us improve our health. A study conducted on 86 women suffering from metastatic breast cancer showed that those who received emotional support lived twice as long as those who didn’t. Another study revealed that patients at risk of Chronic Heart Disease who had strong social relationships benefited from lower blood pressure and therefore a healthier heart. Not to mention that the relaxation brought about by spending time laughing with friends can help lower cortisol levels and therefore ensure the immune system is working at full strength.

Want to take relaxation to the next level? Why not visit your local spa for a day of meditation and relaxation? There are so many different ways in which you can share a very special mental space with your friends: chanting, gong baths, traditional yoga classes and even my new favourite Strala Yoga which I had the pleasure of trying out for the first time in May 2016. It’s a really great way of exploring movement and flow without experiencing some of the pain and discomfort that holding yoga poses for any length of time can bring about if you are flexibly challenged like me.
Good friends help you stay young (I wouldn’t call it regressing…)

Good friends gossipingIf your present sucks it’s good to get together with friends to reminisce the past. This is what happens every single time I go to Italy to visit my family and meet up with friends from my (not totally misspent) youth. A positive mindset is vital when you are instigating changes to your lifestyle in order to achieve the body of your dreams. Sometimes when life keeps throwing you lemons it’s really difficult to stay positive and keep on moving forwards.

So why not take a step back for a day and revisit the past with your closest friends? Laughing and reminiscing always has a wonderful effect on me. Suddenly I feel uplifted again and ready to tackle whatever shit life decides to throw my way with renewed zest. It’s a bit like when athletes take a step backward to launch themselves forward more effectively.

Good friends come in all shapes and sizes

Don’t have enough good quality human company? Let’s not forget our four legged friends. They might not be able to hold a proper conversation with us but they always seem to find new ways of bringing a smile to our face. PLUS you never have to doubt whether or not they meant that friendly gesture. They did. That’s why they are ace.

Good friends trick you into moving when you don’t feel like exercising

Good friends soaking feet togetherHave you ever woken up in the middle of your Fitness Makeover project and felt sick at the prospect of doing structured exercise? Me too. That’s when your friends come to the rescue: a night out clubbing, playing ten pin bowling, visiting an art gallery, browsing the local food fayre or exploring your nearest Mind & Body festival are all excellent ways to keep on moving when you don’t feel like exercising. Regular movement is actually more important than structured exercise both for your health and your weight loss ambitions so embrace your friends’ suggestions and go out for a boogie and a laugh.

I am sure you can probably figure out many more reasons why friends are good for you depending on your unique circumstances. If nothing else, please let this post serve as a reminder to pick up the phone and reach out to “that” friend that you haven’t heard from in a very long time. Liking each other’s posts on Facebook doesn’t count.

So, what did I miss out? In which other ways are friends good for your health? Let me know in the comments below!

Muffin tops not budging? Try this.

weight loss plateau do less achieve more


The thing I hate the most about getting older is that it takes me 10 times more strategic effort to lose fat when I fancy “wearing” the sculpted look than it did less than 10 years ago. Sometimes I even want to believe that it’s because calories double in value when ingested in your forties.

It’s no news that as we get older we start to lose muscle at a rate of 2 to 5% over each decade and with it part of our ability to burn fat for energy all day long. It’s also no news that as our estrogen and progesterone levels drop with the onset of menopause we become more susceptible to stress in all its varieties (physical, mental, emotional) which leads us to accumulate extra fat, especially around the waist.

Suddenly the mainstream way of managing our weight of “eat less, exercise more” doesn’t work anymore and despite all our efforts nothing changes or, worse, we get flabbier. And perhaps our lack of success makes us think that we might as well give up and resign ourselves to becoming fatter and weaker as time goes on.

Well, that’s not the case and it’s relatively easy to turn this around. The best way to reduce weight when nothing else seems to work anymore involves tweaking some of our habits and creating a different lifestyle that will keep us healthy and fit well beyond our golden years.

Stress impacts our health and our ability to stay lean by disrupting the lines of communication between our brain (Hypothalamus and Pituitary gland to be exact) and our endocrine system. This turbulence affects the normal behaviour of hormones which can no longer be effective in carrying out their respective tasks as messengers thus creating the scenario for fat loss plateaus and even weight gain.

What are the main causes of stress?

Stress can come from many sources: eating too much, not eating enough (dieting), illness, injury, bereavements, negative emotions, not enough sleep, too much exercise, not exercising enough, environmental toxins, extreme temperatures, personal losses, fear, worrying about the future, and so on. Because of the multifaceted nature of what we define as “stress” on the body, we need to deal with its causes on a multitude of levels if we want to restore balance.

Over the years I have met a large number of clients who found themselves in this situation: all the things that used to work before their 40s to keep them in tip top shape slowly stopped working. No amount of eating very little and exercising very hard yielded the results they were after and that’s when they sought out my help to reverse this trend.

I think with all of them I could have cut their apprehension with a knife during our first consultation as they were concerned I would tell them to go to even greater lengths to achieve their goals. Instead they almost cried with joy when I told them the reverse: if doing crossfit + running + weight lifting and eating 3 bread crumbs a day didn’t work, perhaps the key to success lied in the opposite approach.

How to be healthy and lose weight in your 40’s

Impala walking in the savanahWhenever I deal with middle aged to older clients I get the best results when I switch their exercise regime to includes lots of relaxing activities and remove some of the more exciting ones. This includes lots of walking, meditation, restorative yoga, aromatherapy, massages, chilling with friends, etc.

This may seem counter-intuitive at first but never fails to deliver results. It’s so easy to take on extra tasks to be dealt with on a daily basis that we often forget the importance of relaxation for both our physical and emotional health and we never make time for it.

My favourite piece of advice is to try and do some leisurely walking every day. If you think about it that’s how mammals keep themselves fit: they walk most of the time that they are active and only run like the clappers either when they are hunting or when they are being hunted. They rest the rest of the time. The only times when you see overweight animals is when they are fed unnatural diets or they don’t have enough space to move around. The same is true for us.

My elderly parents are a living example of how successful this approach is: in their late 70’s they make a point of walking for a couple of hours every day at their own leisurely pace. They are lucky because they have access to parks and wild countryside so they can chill away from the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Although they don’t do any structured exercise to retain their muscle mass they are still lean, fit and healthy. They can carry themselves tall and can run up and down the stairs all day long without any issues whatsoever. They also eat regularly and have naps throughout the day.

Weight loss can be a walk in the park if you know how

Parco Sempione, Milano

The power of leisurely walking

Walking at a nice and comfortable pace in natural surroundings is very powerful when it comes to fat loss (at any age): in addition to strengthening the heart and reducing the risk of developing a variety of diseases, it helps to lower cortisol levels through relaxation. Cortisol is released by the body in response to stress of any kind (including exercise) and it’s the main culprit for the suppression of the immune system as well as the accumulation of fat around the belly area.

Having said that we shouldn’t concern ourselves too much over cortisol taken in isolation. This hormone is only one small part of a much bigger and complicated equation. Yes, this hormone is responsible for increasing belly fat, however when released in conjunction with other hormones that are also secreted during exercise it contributes to fat loss.

So provided that we are eating a clean and sensible diet rich in protein, fibre and non-starchy carbohydrates (with just enough starches) AND provided we are in good general health, by substituting some high energy exercise sessions with slow walking or other relaxing activities we will be able to overcome a fat loss plateau and reduce belly fat fast. This has the additional benefit of allowing us the opportunity to practice mindfulness, get out of our thoughts and live in the moment for a little while. I bet that if you looked around on your daily walk to work you would notice things that perhaps you had previously overlooked because you were too busy planning your day in your head.

Testing the theory

DuomoI tested this theory during a recent trip to my hometown in Italy: Milan. My partner and I flew there and didn’t hire a car this time so we went everywhere around town either on foot or using public transport. Because we were on holiday we couldn’t care less how long it took us to get around and so we strolled for miles, slowly, every day enjoying the sights.

We were so relaxed that we hardly ever got hungry and when we did we were lucky to have access to lots of fresh fruit and vegetables from the local market that my mum had prepared for us. Because the fresh produce was so tasty we never had any room for bread or pasta.

We ended up being well nourished without effort and never suffered from cravings for starchy foods or sweets.

Boosting our weight loss efforts walking along the NaviglioOn the Saturday I decided to take my other half for a romantic walk along the Naviglio Grande, a historical canal that was once used to transport goods from the surrounding rural areas into the centre of Milan.

The largest remaining canal from the original network happens to run a mile or two from my parents’ flat and so we decided that, because it was such a nice sunny day, it would be lovely to follow it towards town until we could hop on a tram and complete the journey that way.

Much to our disappointment the canal was being dredged in view of the forthcoming Expo event (eat your way around the world under one roof). The lack of water didn’t dampen our spirits too much and we carried on walking.

This was fat loss heaven for both of us. Although we were gently strolling we did so for a good 5 miles, occasionally stopping to have a look at the charming shops and market stalls we encountered along the way.

Despite being really easy exercise we still managed to burn a fair amount of calories, certainly way more than we had consumed earlier in the day therefore bringing us into a small deficit.

Of course when exercising it’s important to replenish the glycogen stores within the muscles to ensure growth and prevent loss. And so, even if gentle walking isn’t really to be compared with structured metabolic workouts, when you do that over a long distance it’s still good practice to think about nutrients and “eat accordingly in a timely manner”. That’s my excuse for having ice cream whenever I am back in Italy.  😉

GROM for weight loss? Yes please!Hello GROM!

You can’t visit a major Italian city without paying a visit to the Holy Grail of ice cream parlors. For us it provided a focal point as we were starting to get tired from visiting ancient monuments on our way to the Duomo. It was our reward for all the walking we had just done and a pick-me-up for all the walking left to do.

Why a GROM? Because they make ice creams like they should be: with eggs, cream, sugar and organically grown fruit, nuts and chocolate and no chemical crap. From a nutritional point of view these ice creams aren’t too bad at all. The “nutritional facts” for their products show that they pack a decent amount of proteins and fats in relation to carbohydrates which fulfill the purpose of restoring glycogen reserves (carbs) as well as making us feel full afterwards. Oh and the giant cup (according to their website) packs ONLY 290 KCal of delicious goodness which was less than half the amount of calories burned being tourists for the day.

By the end of the long weekend all the walking and ice cream eating had resulted in a metabolic reset and clothes that were fitting more loosely around the waist. My six pack even came out hiding!

The takeaway from this story is that if your weight loss efforts are giving you less than stellar results, maybe you are doing too much. Stop doing what you are doing, slow everything down, check in with yourself, relax a bit more and go for a stroll somewhere nice. Repeat for a few days and see what difference it makes.

If you need help re-establishing balance in your life and overcome a weight loss plateaus book a complimentary call right now and let’s come up with a plan!