There’s a lot of hubbub about this cool hormone, cortisol, so we thought we’d give you some details on what the heck it is, how it works, and why it’s so crucial for us gamers to get a grasp of.
Cortisol is a little thing produced by your adrenal glands; works with your brain to monitor things like your mood, motivations, and fears. It’s probably best known for its part in managing our super sick fight-or-flight response that seems to always turn to fight! mode when our team is 4v5 in mid…
BUT, it also plays an important role in, like, every other of your body’s systems: it’s pretty important in figuring out how your body converts carbs, fats, and protein; has a part in regulating your blood pressure, keeps your inflammation down and your glucose levels up; plus, it’s a key component in having a healthy circadian cycle, another well-researched reason why gaming late at night can make it tough af to sleep well. Cortisol is kind of all over the place, which is both cool, and also a little troubling when we later cover just how much gamers actually produce.
So, how does it work? At the surface level, when your brain is stimulated, and your cortisol levels are lower than your body needs to respond to the stimulus, your brain (more specifically, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland) send a message to your adrenal glands to the effect of, “Ooooo, gurl, it’s on, who we scrappin’?!” Your adrenal glands then flush cortisol to be picked up by cortisol receivers, which are in most cells in your body, and probably also why cortisol has its fingers in so many of our body’s pies. Weird image. This is part of the reason that we actually feel stimulated, too: cortisol boosts your energy levels so you can respond to whatever perceived threat.
Sometimes your body can get too stressed out, as I’m sure we’ve all heard. After the stimulus has passed, your body has all the tools to lower your cortisol levels and return your blood pressure and stuff to what should be stasis. When you’re in a constant state of stimulation - say, you’re working several jobs or one super stressful job or just crushing your coursework all day, only to come home and try to “unwind” or “blow some steam” by putting your body right back under stress to play some games - it will derail a slew of your body’s most crucial functions and lead to symptoms like headaches, heart and digestive issues, weight gain, concentration and memory problems, and even serious anxiety or depression. So, as you can see, cortisol can have an extremely negative impact on you if you’re producing too much - and gamers produce a lot.
Cortisol levels are a real concern for gmers, specifically, not just because of the intuitive knowing about gaming’s capability for stress, but also because of YE OLDE SCIENCE.
You might’ve heard about Professor Ingo Froböse’s eSport athlete study before: through the German Sports University, Froböse conducted an experiment in the name of prevention and rehabilitation for gamer health, since no one had looked critically at the demands placed on eSports athletes, much less the kind of training one would have to go through in order to compete and what sort of subsequent strains that training would incur. What the team witnessed was nothing short of surprising, and showed that the stress placed on eSport athletes is a unique level of strain unseen in any other sport:
"We were particularly impressed by both the demands placed on the motor skills and their capabilities. The eSports athletes achieve up to 400 movements on the keyboard and the mouse per minute, four times as much as the average person. The whole thing is asymmetrical, because both hands are being moved at the same time and various parts of the brain are also being used at the same time."
The incredible motor movements and tactical firing needed for many of the most popular eSports games led the team to measure the cortisol levels of eSports players, this is what they concluded:
"The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver. This is combined with a high pulse, sometimes as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute, which is equivalent to what happened during a very fast run, almost a marathon. That's not to mention the motor skills involved. So in my opinion, eSports are just as demanding as most other types of sports, if not more demanding.”
Boom. There you have it, SCIENCE says go to the gym. Oh, you didn’t catch that little subtext? Here’s the problem: elite gamers are under equal if not greater stress than their traditional counterparts, right? But their bodies - our bodies - on average are not prepared for this level of strain, for this rapid a heartbeat, and this level of cortisol production. And, what’s more, gamers don’t seem to grasp the weight being put upon them and its potentially damaging implications.
Putting elite levels of stress on an averagely fit person is a recipe for disaster. Froböse says that even something as simple as holistic stretching combined with some focused shoulder and neck exercises would, “strengthen the whole support system… [improving gamers’] fine-motor skills in the arm area, something that is extremely important in competition.”
What does “being fit” mean, though? How do you keep your fight-or-flight response in check, your cortisol levels balanced? When I imply “be fit,” I don’t mean drop all your responsibilities and passions to go to the gym every morning because being a male model is the only path to happiness and health. For one, it definitely isn’t either of those things, and secondly, ew.
Just eat better. Exercise a little. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: replace those sugary drinks with water, put those Doritos down and pick up, like, a banana or an apple or just make a PB&J. Sleep more - and set yourself up for successful sleep. Try those breathing exercises I mentioned I would get around to explicating about. Maybe go to a yoga class - most studios have a free trial or something similar - or just go on a little hike, even taking more opportunities to walk around. Go outside, maybe camping. Probably wear sunscreen if you’re at all a pale cave monster like me.
Laugh. It’s more important than you know, and one of the best ways to relieve stress.
The road to “getting fit” is set brick by nutritious brick, and taken one shaky step at a time. Don’t go nuts. Set the intention, make a plan, and take care of yourself.