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When the brain senses that the body is under stress through a rise in blood pressure and increased heart rate, your body activates the hormone cortisol. Produced in your adrenal glands right above your kidneys, cortisol is responsible for preparing the body to either confront and overcome the stressor, or to remove itself away from the stressor.

This phenomenon is popularly known as the “fight or flight response;” a handy adaptation for when we were cave people and were constantly under the threat of mastodons and saber-toothed tigers wandering into camp, but, these days, anything from a new job interview, to a tax audit, to rush hour traffic, to Sharon in the cubicle next to you at work can set this reaction off.

Now, while cortisol is very useful in the sense that it can very rapidly temporarily change the body’s focus away from non-immediately-essential tasks like digestion, fat metabolism and muscle building during an instantaneous threat of stress, when allowed to linger in the system too long from constant and un-resolved low-level stress, cortisol can have a negative impact on your body’s basal metabolic rate (BMR).

Your BMR is what’s commonly referred to as simply “your metabolism;” it’s what’s meant when people say things like “building muscle increases your metabolism and burns fat.” More specifically, your BMR is the amount of calories your body burns through the course of simply keeping you alive – your heart beating, your brain functioning, your lungs breathing – without any consideration of movement. It is your BMR that is responsible for telling us how effective your body is at building and maintaining muscle mass, and how efficiently you burn fat mass (the higher the BMR, the better you are at building and burning).

Now that we know the two players involved with how stress can effect fat-burning and muscle-building, next week we will illustrate how the two interact with each other, and what you can do to limit the fallout! Stay tuned gang!

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