Consider the plight of Atlantic salmon; swimming, leaping and flopping their way upstream to spawn. As they exert themselves at this high rate, levels of cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) surge through every body system to help provide energy and drive the fight-or-flight response that keeps them going. If the salmon could stop to catch their breath (or gills) those cortisol levels would lower to normal. Unfortunately, since they have some lovin’ to do, they press onward and their cortisol levels remain elevated during their multi-week, heroic upstream workout. Upon reaching their spawning grounds, they get it over with (so much for romance) and promptly die. If you took a close look at these just-spawned salmon, you’d notice one striking feature; they’re a mess! These fish suffer from immune system breakdown, infections, open sores, cardiovascular damage, muscle loss, brain destruction and a diminished ability to repair all tissue. Why is this important? Because the same hormonal stress response and elevated cortisol levels occur in our bodies.
In many ways, the salmon are a perfect example of the dangers of living ‘on the go’ in a modern technocratic society. Exhaustive stress stimulates the perpetual release of cortisol which in time sears our body and mind like the constant drizzle of acid. The more persistent a person’s tension, the greater amounts of these hormones that are produced. This distorts our thinking and ravages our bodies.
It seems there is really a ‘death hormone’ that is responsible for many kinds of ailments afflicting mankind. As for its effects; well, let’s just say if you have high levels of cortisol in your bloodstream – you will look and feel way older than your age! Cortisol is the chief reason why you’ve heard the saying, “Stress kills.”
Excerpted and modified from American Fitness. Cortisol control: what salmon can teach you about proper training and recovery.