The Scene: You’re driving in your Volkswagen on a cool autumn day.  You gaze out the window to admire the colorful foliage when out of nowhere a toddler on a big wheel rolls directly in front of your car.  You slam on the breaks, just barely avoiding disaster.

You can feel your heart in your chest.  It appears everything has slowed down.  Your vision seems to have narrowed.  Your once clogged sinuses are now clear.  That nagging tendinitis you have had in your elbow seems to have temporarily gone away.

Your body has just given you a powerful dose of epinephrine.

Epinephrine/Adrenaline

The “fight or flight” hormone.  Your body releases epinephrine in response to short term stress situations.  These situations tend to involve extreme changes in the environment, like those of temperature, noise, bright light, or children running in front of your car.  The purpose of this temporary doping is to allow increased oxygen to reach the brain and skeletal muscle in order to allow for momentary peak performance.  The type of performance one might have needed to escape from a saber toothed cat 2 million years ago.  The software in our bodies hasn’t really updated much since then.

Testosterone

For our purposes I’ll skip the sex education speech and go into the not-so-familiar method of elevating testosterone; through exercise.  Studies have shown that using complex movements like squats and pull ups as opposed to leg extensions and biceps curls has a much greater impact on our bodies ability to naturally increase its testosterone levels.  Testosterone offers us a plethora of benefits such as increased libido, mental and physical energy, decreased fat mass, and increased protein synthesis and bone density.  Not bad for anyone whose goal is to either shed a few pounds or gain some lean muscle.  Aside from using compound movements studies also seem to favor using heavy weights when trying to stimulate greater testosterone levels.

Cortisol

Like epinephrine, cortisol is also released due to stress.  Its job is to try to bring your body’s systems back to homeostasis after an event.  It does this by increasing blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar.  It also temporarily shuts down the immune system in order to cater to the other more important bodily systems.  Unfortunately, some negative side effects of long-term cortisol release can leave you pretty beat up on the inside.  Your body is now more likely to store fat close to the vital organs in your gut so that it is more readily available for the next stressful event.  A good way to spot the stressed-out guy at your office is to look for the beer belly.

Although this article did not focus completely around exercise and fitness, it should be easy to see how knowing a little bit about the way things work on the inside can affect the way you look on the outside.  Understand and learn your body; that is a major key to success in any fitness program.

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