BBJ Fitness Corner | On the importance of mental health

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AS we cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is also important to manage the stresses that may build up during these trying times, Gold's Gym personal trainer Jerry Diaz said.

“An important area that our community should also focus on is mental health,” he added. Frustration, for example, can build up rapidly due to stress. And this can lead to high levels of cortisol. A hormone released by the adrenal glands, cortisol provides support as we deal with a stressful situation. However, when its levels are too high for too long, cortisol can hurt individuals more than it helps. It may result in weight gain, high blood pressure or diabetes. It can also disrupt one’s sleep and reduce energy levels.

Sunset on Saipan as seen behind the Carolinian Utt in Garapan. Photo by Mayumi Ogumoro

Diaz said an important stress-management approach is knowing when to drop everything. “There are moments when we need to check out to recharge,” he added.

“As a personal trainer, I deal with clients who are frustrated with the result of their fitness and nutrition routines,” Diaz said. “I advise them to stick to a consistent sleep schedule by avoiding caffeine in the evening and sleep interruptions. They must get seven to eight hours of sleep daily to keep their cortisol in check.”

Exercise is important, he said, but professional trainers also advise their clients regarding the appropriate intensity of exercise that may increase or decrease cortisol. “We want our clients to recognize stressful thinking. Stressful thoughts are an important signal for cortisol release.”

A certified suicide-prevention trainer, Diaz said he shares “mindfulness-based stress reduction strategies” with his clients.  These involve “training ourselves to be aware of our thoughts and our heart rate, and learning breathing techniques.” Yoga, Tai chi, music or massage can also help.

Diaz said it is also highly recommended to do things that we enjoy. Developing hobbies or spending time with people we love can promote feelings of well-being, which will result in lower cortisol, he added. 

Fitness facts

  • Cortisol-reducing foods include dark chocolate, tea, and soluble fiber.
  • Avoiding excess sugar consumption may also help keep your cortisol levels down.


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