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Stress and Weight Gain: Taming the Beast

by Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

stress black man
You’re So Hormonal!
As fitness professionals, it is easy to take our good health for granted. Regular physical activity and good nutrition keep us in top form and looking our best. Beneath the surface of your hard-earned physique, chemical responses are constantly being triggered by outside stimuli to maintain physical homeostasis, or balance. Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate organic functions. When stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity are present, hormones work overtime to try to achieve internal homeostasis.
Belly of the Beast
When chronic stress from outside stimuli is present, your body feels threatened, and your immune system works overtime to fight off potential invaders. One hormone that dominates the body during times of stress is cortisol. According to researchers at the University of New Mexico, cortisol is necessary for fuel regulation. It is released while exercising, eating, awakening, and during psychosocial stress. But cortisol induced by chronic stress can stimulate cravings for fats and sugars, and can cause the body to redistribute fat to the abdomen, where it accumulates around vital organs. Visceral abdominal fat can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and dementia.

Yoga Lotus
Getting at the Source
Stress is part of life, and highly motivated people are likely to have more than their share of stress because they take on greater challenges. Many of our clients are Type-A overachievers who are in it to win it. Sleep deprivation, too much caffeine, excess alcohol consumption, eating on the run, hours spent sitting and lack of recreation are just some of the symptoms of a stress-driven lifestyle. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, chronic stress can lead to depression, metabolic disease and heart problems. As trainers, it is up to us to help our clients acknowledge their harmful behaviors and map out a strategy for change.
Taming the Dragon
Regular vigorous exercise, adequate sleep and whole foods nutrition are tools that help with stress management. Mind-body activities like yoga, tai chi and Pilates can help alleviate stress by increasing your awareness of your body’s physiological processes. Meditation is a powerful tool for stress management because it teaches the practitioner to control mental reactions to stressful thoughts, thereby thwarting the harmful physiological responses that worrisome thoughts trigger. Massage can also help to reduce stress. As a trainer, you can help your clients manage stress by introducing these practices as part of their training protocol.

Helping your clients manage stress should be a fundamental consideration for any successful trainer. To learn more about stress management and lifestyle coaching, check out W.I.T.S. Lifestyle Fitness Coaching  and Personal Trainer Certification Courses, both available online.
References and Credits
American Psychological Association: How Stress Affects Your Health

Epel ES, et al (2000). Stress and Body Shape: Stress-Induced Cortisol Secretion is Consistently Greater Among Women With Central Fat. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62:623-632.

Harvard Medical School: Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety, Mental Stress

University of Maryland Medical Center: Stress

University of New Mexico: Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight

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GMOs: How They Impact Health and Wellness

By Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

What are GMOs?

The discussion is heating up about GMOs, of genetically modified organisms, and as fitness professionals, we need to heighten our awareness of these potentially hazardous threats to human and animal health and wellness. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, GMO technology, also referred to as genetic engineering, biotechnology or recombinant DNA technology, is performed by randomly inserting genetic fragments of DNA from one species into an organism of a completely different species. GMOs were first approved for human consumption by the FDA in 1982. By the end of the 1990’s, they dominated food crops, especially grains fed to animals.

GMO Corn
Hybrid vs GMO

Some argue that genetic engineering is no different from hybridization, where elements two similar organisms of the same species are fused to create a new breed of plant or animal. Many of the meats and produce we commonly consume are hybrids, engineered to enhance flavor and resist disease. But GMOs are a whole new breed, conjoining entirely different species to enhance Agribusiness profits, with little regard for the health of the humans and animals who consume them.

Health Impact of GMOs

A number of animal studies have been done to determine the impact of GMOs on health. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, serious health risks have been associated with GMOs, including infertility, accelerated aging, suppression of the immune system, poor insulin regulation, changes in the function of major organs, and damage to the gastrointestinal system. Gluten intolerance and the alarming rise in obesity and diabetes have been linked to the advent and rise of GMO tainted food.

gmo fat belly
The Great Coverup

In response to growing public concern and pressure from the whole foods community to eliminate GMOs from our food supply, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Agribusiness are spending millions to lobby against labeling mandates. They do not want consumers to know which foods contain GMOs. Globally, many countries have banned GMO crops, including members of the European Union, the United Kingdom, many Middle Eastern and Eastern Asian nations, and several South American countries.

Avoiding GMOs

The most common GMO foods are soy, corn, oil from canola and cottonseed, sugar from sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, and a small amount of zucchini and crook neck squash, according to the Permaculture Research Institute. Grain-fed animals have been tainted with GMOs, which are passed on to humans who consume them. To avoid GMOs, avoid all processed foods. Read food labels carefully to detect GMO ingredients. Avoid soy milk and other soy-based products. Stick to whole natural certified organic produce, and eat only free-range grass fed animal products.


You cannot rely on the latest nutrition fads to help your clients achieve results. To be a top trainer, nutrition education is an ongoing requirement. W.I.T.S. is here to help you succeed with our Nutritional Concepts course, available online.

References and Credits

American Academy of Environmental Medicine: Genetically Modified Foods

GMO Inside: Getting GMOs and Toxins Out of Our Food

Institute for Responsible Technology: GMO Health Dangers

Mother Earth News: How to Avoid Genetically Modified Food

Organic Consumer’s Association: Countries & Regions With GE Food/Crop Bans

PBS: Genetically Modified Foods

Permaculture Research Institute: The Big GMO Coverup

Union of Concerned Scientists: Genetic Engineering Risks and Impacts

*Images courtesy of

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Eggs and Heart Health: How a Super Food Got a Bad Rap

By Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS












Egg on Our Faces
For decades, health care professionals have warned us about the dangers of eating saturated fats from animal sources. In particular, the egg has been targeted as a cholesterol-laden time bomb, set to drive up your arterial plaque and give you an early heart attack. The public response has been to limit eggs to two per week, and to shun egg yolks, reserving only the bland egg white as a breakfast alternative.
The Yolk is on Us
While egg whites are a highly digestible source of protein, the yolk is nutrient dense, providing significant levels of several vitamins and minerals, according to the USDA. The yolk has been shown to be a rich source of the amino acid lutein, a critical nutrient for eye health. In a 2006 study of adults over age 60, consuming one egg per day for five weeks increased lutein levels without raising serum cholesterol.


A Scrambled Message turned Sunny Side Up

The vilification of eggs began in the 1960s with studies performed on rabbits. Researchers found that rabbits who were fed eggs registered an alarming rise in serum cholesterol. The problem with this research is that rabbits are herbivores, and do not have the digestive capacity of humans and other omnivores. Recent research has dispelled the mythical link between eggs and high cholesterol in humans.

Breaking the Shell of Misinformation

Eggs make an ideal food for clients trying to lose weight. Eggs are a nutrient-rich superfood, low in calories and high in protein. Eggs from free-range organic chickens cost a bit more, but have higher nutritional value without the antibiotics and other harmful substances found in factory farm eggs. An extra large egg has only 90 calories. A hard boiled egg makes a great snack, and the fat in the yolk suppresses hunger. Make a low-carb frittata for dinner by chopping up mushrooms, peppers, onions and spinach and placing them in a greased casserole dish or coffee cup. Top with shredded cheese and pour beaten whole eggs over the top. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the top turns golden and the eggs are firm.


You cannot rely on the latest nutrition fads to help your clients achieve results. To be a top trainer, nutrition education is an ongoing requirement. W.I.T.S. is here to help you succeed with our Nutritional Concepts course, available online.

References and Credits
Rong Y et al (2013). Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. British Medical Journal, 2013;346:e8539

Harvard School of Public Health: Eggs and Heart Disease

New York Magazine: Understanding the New Science of Cholesterol

United States Department of Agriculture: Basic Report:  01123, Egg, whole, raw, fresh.

Goodrow EF et al (2006). Consumption of one egg per day increases serum lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in older adults without altering serum lipid and lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations. Journal of Nutrition, 2006, Oct;136(10):2519-24.

*Images courtesy of

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Your Client on Drugs: How Pharmaceuticals Affect Weight Loss and Performance

By Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

Medication Nation
Most of us in the fitness community believe that exercise is medicine, and that consuming whole unprocessed food is the best way to nourish and energize our bodies. But the general population whom we serve has been convinced that they cannot enjoy good health without medical intervention. Thus, many of our clients and customers come to us with health conditions that are being treated with drugs. According to a recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, one in seven Americans is using some type of pharmaceutical. As people age, the number of drugs taken increases, yet metabolic disease continues to be on the rise. Medications can interfere with exercise strategies, and can prevent your client from achieving their weight loss goals. We need to be aware of the side effects of the drugs our clients are taking in order to understand their impact on performance and the client’s rate of progress.

prescription drugs
Weight a Minute
Many drugs interfere with energy production, and can slow your client’s weight loss. The Obesity Action Coalition lists diabetes drugs, antidepressants and other psychotropic and neurological drugs, blood pressure medications, steroids, antihistamines, and others as potentially contributing to weight gain. Pain killers and antidepressants can slow metabolism, meaning your client expends fewer calories per day. Even when your client exercises regularly and reforms the way they eat, they may make little or no progress toward their weight loss goals if their medications are counteracting their efforts.
Contraction Action
Pharmaceuticals can also interfere with muscle performance. Statin drugs prescribed to control cholesterol have been shown to impede the muscle cells’ ability to contract. Statin users may complain of muscle weakness and increased soreness after exercise. In some cases, heavy exercise can lead to rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening condition wherein the muscle cells are destroyed, leaking myoglobin into the blood stream and damaging the kidneys. Many exercisers take analgesics and painkillers to manage muscle soreness. Masking pain sensors can be dangerous when exercising, allowing you to ignore signs of tissue damage and potential injury. Many pain killers are narcotic, and can lead to addiction.

diabetes injection
Drug Dependence
In some cases, medicine is necessary in order for a client to exercise. Type I diabetics are dependent on regular insulin injections to regulate blood sugar. Asthmatics may rely on corticosteroids and bronchodilators to open up constricted airways. If medications are necessary for exercise performance, educate yourself on your client’s condition so that you can help them manage episodes that may occur during exercise.

trainer with drugs
Before you begin training a new client, request a complete and thorough list of the medications they are taking. Do your research to see how those medications may influence performance and weight management. As a fitness professional, you cannot and should not advise your clients to discontinue taking medicine prescribed by their doctor. You can, however, educate your clients about the potential side effects of their medications, and you can encourage them to discuss alternatives with their health care provider.
You cannot rely on the latest nutrition fads to help your clients achieve results. To be a top trainer, nutrition education is an ongoing requirement. W.I.T.S. is here to help you succeed with our Nutritional Concepts course, available online.
References and Credits
Mayo Clinic. (2013, June 19). Nearly 7 in 10 Americans are on prescription drugs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 15, 2015 from

Medscape: Effect of Statins on Skeletal Muscle

Obesity Action Coalition: Prescription Medications & Weight Gain – What You Need to Know

World of Sports Science: Prescription Medications and Athletic Performance

*Images courtesy of

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The Skinny on Saturated Fat

  By Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

Fat’s Bad Rap

During the last quarter of the 20th Century, medical professionals increasingly discouraged the consumption of saturated fat because it was widely believed to contribute to obesity and heart disease. The low-fat trend was fueled by the United States Congress, who adopted Senator George McGovern’s initiative to establish Dietary Guidelines for Americans, after numerous members of Congress suffered and died from heart disease. The labeling of saturated fat as unhealthy was not supported by scientific research, but was influenced by longevity guru Nathan Pritikin, who believed dietary changes would reverse heart disease. It was thought that adopting a low fat diet and replacing dairy, eggs and meat with bread, pasta and rice would lead to decreased obesity and a reduced incidence of heart disease. The Guidelines recommended consuming the bulk of daily calories from grains, fruits and vegetables, and only a small percentage from proteins and fats. Very quickly, Americans switched from protein-based meals to carbohydrate-intensive eating patterns.


food pyramid broken

Against the Grain

Concurrent with the low-fat revolution was the assertion of Dr. Robert Atkins, author of “The New Diet Revolution,” that saturated fat was not harmful to human health. Labeling the campaign against fat as misguided and futile, Atkins outlined a plan wherein a liberal consumption of animal fats along with generous portions of fresh produce and zero grains and sugars resulted in healthy weight loss and increased longevity. Millions of believers followed his guidelines and realized amazing results, so long as they stuck with the plan. However, successful followers of the Atkins plan often reverted to old lifestyle patterns upon reaching their weight goals, reintroducing grain-based carbohydrates and sugars, and rapidly regaining their weight.

Lack of Evidence

While the emphasis on reducing saturated fat consumption has dominated the thinking of mainstream medicine into the 21st Century, new research suggests that moderate consumption of animal fats is no more harmful to heart health than excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates. A 2014 meta-analysis of 76 studies involving over 600,000 subjects found little evidence to support the link between fat consumption, obesity and heart disease. With an alarming increase in population-wide obesity since the inception of the Dietary Guidelines, the tides are slowly turning toward a new perspective on saturated fat.

george mcgovern

Where Things Stand

The United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are responsible for updating the Dietary Guidelines every five years. But as Dr. Michael Greger, Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States notes, industry has a powerful influence on government generated reports. Every five years, the dairy and meat industries face off with the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, or GMA, to earn the blessings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

What Really Works

As fitness professionals, we can only hope that the revised Guidelines will do more good than harm when it comes to consumer food trends. Meanwhile, we can help our clients manage their weight by providing exercise programming, nutrition monitoring and education. For successful weight loss, restrict or eliminate all grains, sugars and processed food from your diet. Eat an abundance of whole organic vegetables and fruits, and consume humanely raised organic animal protein in moderation. To attain your healthiest weight, Dr. Steven Mercola advocates intermittent fasting, along with bouts of vigorous exercise throughout the day.


Putting This Information to Use

Weight management is the number one reason individuals seek out a personal trainer, join a gym, or enroll in group exercise. As a fitness professional, you need to understand how your body stores fat, and how it uses it for fuel. As with fitness, new research on nutrition and weight management emerges on a regular basis. Staying abreast of the latest findings will help you guide your clients to successful results. Be sure to get your information from reliable sources like peer reviewed research articles and college-level textbooks. Do not rely on the mainstream media for information, as they tend to misinterpret research studies to promote a specific agenda.


You cannot rely on the latest nutrition fads to help your clients achieve results. To be a top trainer, nutrition education is an ongoing requirement. W.I.T.S. is here to help you succeed with our Nutritional Concepts course, available online.

References and Credits


Atkins, R C (1992). Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution. Harper Collins Publishers, New York.


Chowdhury, R et al (2014). Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk. Annals of Internal Medicine, 160 (6),


Gregor, M: Against the Science, Meat Pushes Back into U.S. Diet.


Mercola, S (2014). Systematic Review Finds No Grounds for Current Warnings Against Saturated Fat.


NPR: Why We Got Fatter During The Fat-Free Food Boom.


U.S. Department of Agriculture: Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Overweight and Obesity Statistics.


*Images courtesy of


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Trainer’s Lunchbox: Tools for Managing Your Clients’ Nutrition

by Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

Fitness and Forks

Challenging and effective exercise programming is the foundation of fitness. But for optimal performance and successful weight management, nutrition plays a critical role. As the saying goes, you cannot out-train a bad diet. In a perfect world, you would be present to monitor every morsel of food that passes your client’s lips. But in the real world, your client must make his or her own decisions about what, when and how much to eat. The best you can do is to hold them accountable, and educate them as you go. Fortunately, you do have some tools available to help.

smart fitness

Dear Diary

Requiring a daily food and activity diary is perhaps the most effective tool you can employ to hold your client’s feet to the fire. A 2008 study of approaches to weight loss published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine” found that subjects who journaled lost nearly twice as much weight as those who did not. The more frequent and thorough the journal entries, the greater the weight reduction. For maximal results, don’t wait until your next session to review your client’s food and activity log. Require them to submit a daily log electronically at the end of each day. Knowing that the log will be reviewed will make your client more mindful of their food and exercise behaviors throughout each day. Encourage them to add comments about their thoughts and feelings. Emotionally charged journaling is more impactful.


What’s the Plan?

If you ask your typical early morning client what they plan to eat for the rest of the day, they will probably tell you they have no idea. Therein lies the problem. Without a plan, eating becomes random and your client often ends up eating too many calories from the wrong types of food. Here’s the strategy: Have your client submit a detailed plan for healthy meals and snacks for each day of the week, and then work with them to create a grocery list from their menu. When you have a plan, and you’ve stocked up on all the groceries you need to execute it, there are no excuses for making unhealthy choices. Offering some recipe suggestions and creative ways to use leftovers will help your client make the switch from SAD, the Standard American Diet, to FAB, the Forever Awesome Body.

healthy food

Healthy App-etite

Fitness training and technology have followed a similar growth curve over the past decade, and there are now a plethora of useful apps and online tools that can help you manage your client’s nutrition. Sites like and provide tools that will count calories and give you a breakdown of nutrients for virtually any food eaten. They will also calculate calories expended for a wide range of activities. For tracking tools, daily food plans, menus and recipes, also try With your client’s permission, set up an account on one of these user-friendly sites so that you can both access and track their progress.



Nutrition and fitness are rapidly evolving fields, and new research is constantly contributing to our understanding about how the body uses food for fuel. You cannot rely on the latest nutrition fads to help your clients achieve results. To be a top trainer, nutrition education is an ongoing requirement. W.I.T.S. is here to help you succeed with our Nutritional Concepts available online.

References and Credits

Hollis, JF et al, 2008. Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35(2):118-126.


Livestrong Foundation


MyFitnessPal: Lose Weight with My Fitness Pal


United States Department of Agriculture: Super Tracker


*Images courtesy of

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Training Options for Heart Health

by Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

Exercise and Heart Health

The link between heart disease and physical activity has been studied extensively over the past few decades. The American Heart Association concludes that physically active and fit individuals are less likely to develop heart disease, and if they do develop it, it is likely to be less severe. Improving cardiovascular function in our participants is a fundamental objective of personal trainers and group exercise instructors.


stethoscopeHealth, Fitness and Performance

When working with a new client, it is essential to establish concrete goals for cardiovascular training. One way to do that is to determine whether you are training for health, fitness or performance. Health is more than just the absence of disease. Health is a positive state of mental, social and physical well being. Physical activity improves quality of life, leading to better overall health. Fitness is an elevated state of health that allows individuals to perform everyday tasks with greater ease and to participate in higher levels of physical activity such as sports or group exercise class. Performance takes fitness to an elevated level for competition. Performance requires many hours of dedicated training per week at high intensity levels. With performance training, the risk of injury is elevated.


female-athlete1In it for the Long Haul

Endurance training involves rhythmic large muscle movement, continued over an extended period of time. A typical endurance training session lasts from 25 minutes to an hour or longer, and includes a warm-up period to elevate the heart rate, an extended steady state where the heart beat remains elevated at approximately the same rate, and a cool down to bring the heart back to resting levels. The benefits of endurance training include weight management, improved insulin sensitivity, improved cholesterol levels, and reduced blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. Endurance training can improve cardiovascular health and fitness, and is also appropriate for runners and other distance performance athletes.

More is Better

While steady state endurance training has multiple health benefits, Kravitz and Zuhl of the University of New Mexico argue that high intensity interval training, or HIIT, may offer greater benefits for health, fitness and performance. HIIT consists of repeated bouts of high intensity activity followed by a lower intensity recovery period. Intervals can range from five seconds to eight minutes, with varying lengths of recovery time. Studies have demonstrated that HIIT may lead to greater increases in VO2 Max, increased mitochondrial density in the muscle cells, and improved breakdown of fats and carbohydrates for energy metabolism. With HIIT, your clients can expect to see better results in a shorter period of time.


Mix it Up

Resistance training is not typically associated with cardiovascular fitness. But according to the American College of Sports Medicine, regular resistance training can lower your risk of heart disease by decreasing body fat, lowering blood pressure, improving your cholesterol profile, and lowering cardiac stress from lifting. Because resistance training relies on carbohydrates for fuel, it can help manage your blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. For a well-rounded and effective cardiovascular training program, don’t leave resistance training out of the mix!


To learn more about training for a healthy heart, enroll in W.I.T.S. Exercise Program Design Course or Group Exercise Instructor Certification course, both available online.

References and Credits

American College of Sports Medicine: Resistance Training for Health and Fitness


Circulation: Exercise and Cardiovascular Health


GCSE PE: Health Exercise Fitness and Performance


University of New Mexico: HIIT vs Continuous Endurance Training: Battle of the Aerobic Titans


*Images courtesy of

**Stethoscope image by jscreationzs.

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Heart of a Champion: What is Athlete’s Heart?

You’re All Heart

Your body adapts to hard athletic training by increasing muscularity, agility, reaction time, speed, power and performance. Just like the muscles that govern movement, your heart muscle also adapts to overload, becoming bigger and stronger. The increase is most noticeable in the left ventricle, where oxygenated blood is ejected into the arteries to be circulated to the cells.

female athlete 2

Athlete’s Heart vs CHF

The increase in ventricular size, called left ventricular hypertrophy, was once a concern to doctors, who saw similar growth in the left ventricles of congestive heart failure (CHF) patients. But in CHF, the heart tissue becomes stretched and flabby from trying to pump blood into a resistive circulatory system. The resistance is due to back pressure from clogged and hardened arteries in patients with heart disease.

Lay it on Thick

Unlike CHF, the enlarged heart of an athlete is a result of training, where the heart muscle tissue grows stronger and thicker. The myocardium, or heart muscle, surrounds the chamber of the left ventricle, contracting to eject blood into the systemic circulation. In athletes, the ventricular walls become thick with muscle, translating to a larger diameter.

female athlete

Turn Up the Volume

In addition to the ventricular walls becoming thicker and stronger, the diameter of the chamber increases, allowing for a greater volume of blood to be ejected with each stroke. Increased circulating blood volume and increased arterial diameter enable the oxygen delivery system to function at optimal levels, meaning that cellular respiration can take place at an increased rate. All of this adds up to improved oxygen delivery, increased endurance and delayed fatigue.


To understand more about cardiac adaptations to exercise, become a Certified Personal Trainer or register for the W.I.T.S. Personal Trainer Foundations course online.

References and Credits

Circulation: The Heart of Trained Athletes


Circulation: Left Ventricular Hypertrophy


*Images courtesy of

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Love Hurts: Understanding Broken Heart Syndrome

by Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

broken heart

Love Sick

If you have ever gone through a bad breakup, or lost someone who was near and dear to you, you can likely recall the physical reaction you experienced. A tightening of the chest, a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, difficulty breathing, nausea, weakness and heart palpitations are all symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome. In extreme cases, the physical changes that take place when you are heartbroken can become life threatening, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Heart of Glass

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins Heart and Vascular Institute, unlike a heart attack which kills heart cells, broken heart syndrome is caused by adrenaline and other hormones that stun the heart. Patients who are hospitalized with BHS often present with low blood pressure and shock, which are also symptoms of heart attack. The heart may temporarily become enlarged and pump poorly, similar to congestive heart failure. But in broken heart syndrome, there is no evidence of damage to arteries, as typifies heart disease.

love sick man

Gut Reaction

The gut-churning anxiety that comes with a broken heart can have a profound impact on your body chemistry, impacting cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, brain chemistry and hormonal balance. Decreased nutrient absorption, decreased oxygen to your gut, increased food sensitivity and heartburn are common. Feelings of sadness and depression often plague the broken hearted. According to the American Heart Association, women are more vulnerable than men to heart attack associated with broken heart syndrome.

love sick couple

Time is a Healer

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, but according to Johns Hopkins, the heart eventually recovers, with no lingering permanent damage. Dr. Mercola recommends sleep, meditation and regular exercise as behaviors that can help relieve stress and alleviate the symptoms of  broken heart syndrome.


As a fitness professional, you work closely with clients on an ongoing basis, and chances are you will walk with them through some painful times. To enhance your effectiveness and professionalism, consider adding the W.I.T.S. Lifestyle Fitness Coaching Certification to your credentials.

References and Credits

American Heart Association: Is Broken Heart Syndrome Real?


Johns Hopkins Medicine: Stress Cardiomyopathy Symptoms and Diagnosis


Mercola: How Stress affects your Heart and Gut Health


National Heart Blood and Lung Institute: What is Broken Heart Syndrome?


*Images courtesy of


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Stress and the Psychology of Heart Health

By Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

Stress Kills

Most of us accept stress as a necessary evil that is
a part of the American lifestyle. But living under stress day in and day out can lead to heart disease. According to the American Psychological Association, prolonged stress can contribute to high blood pressure and circulatory problems, and if stress makes you angry and irritable, you are more likely to have heart disease or even a heart attack. The APA notes that stress may be a more important risk factor than smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. A 2013 study published in “ARYA Atherosclerosis” concluded that more attention must be paid to psychological factors that contribute to heart disease.

stressed woman

It’s In Our DNA

The way your body responds to stress is programmed into your animal DNA. When fear and anxiety are present, your immune system releases pro-inflammatory cytokines that lead to inflammation and the release of ghrelin, a stress hormone associated with unhealthy weight gain. In a 2014 review published in “Psychology Bulletin,” researchers explain that this biological inflammatory response to adversity may be critical for survival during times of actual physical threat or injury. But prolonged daily stress turns a temporary fight or flight response into a chronic condition that can lead to heart disease and depression.

stressed man

Lifestyle Hacks

When it comes to heart health, University of Wisconsin Health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, a psychologist who works with the Preventive Cardiology group, asserts, “We often think of exercise, nutrition and family history, but stress is equally important and sometimes underemphasized.” Regular daily exercise and a whole foods diet of fresh fruits and vegetables are important weapons in the war against stress. Yoga, meditation and other stress management strategies can also make a difference.

Happiness Heals

If fear and anxiety are the hallmarks of stress, happiness is its antithesis. People and circumstances cannot make you happy. You can only cultivate happiness within yourself, according to Amir Sood, MD, when you stop looking at the negative things in the world and begin to practice gratitude for what you have, and compassion for the pain of others. Says Dr. Sood, “The pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness.” And happiness will soothe your heart.

happy girl


To learn more about stress management strategies, enroll in the WITS Lifestyle Fitness Coaching course, available online.

References and Credits

ARYA Atherosclerosis: Psychological Factors and Coronary Heart Disease


American Psychological Association: Mind/Body Health: Heart Disease


Amit Sood, MD: A Very Happy Brain


Psychology Bulletin:


Uniersity of Wisconsin Health: Health Psychology for Healthy Hearts


*Images courtesy of