Do We All Have the Same 24 Hours in a Day? Allostatic Load & Health

We all have the same 24 hours in a day is a common “inspirational” quote touted by grindbro and girlbosses alike. And like any Instagram motivational advice, it’s total BS. But my disdain isn’t enough – what does the science say?

Allostatic Load: Overview

The concept of “allostatic load” was introduced by McEwen & Stellar in 1993 [1], and defined as the cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events. It draws on the physiological phenomenon of allostasis, or the ability of an organism to achieve stability through stressors and change [2]. To function at a healthy level, our physiology must be continuously adjusting to life.

So, a broader definition of allostatic load encompasses the cumulative effect of daily life experiences in addition to major life challenges. It also includes the physiological consequences of these health-damaging behaviours – this is things like poor sleep, circadian disruption, unhealthy dietary patterns.

In essence, allostatic load is all the shit going on in your life (big or small) and how that impacts your functioning. When our ability to cope with the challenges of life is impaired, we see this manifest as allostatic overload. Allostatic overload then, is when we can’t cope (as the huns say) with our current stressors [3].

Allostatic load can be potentially characterise by biological markers. However, biomarkers don’t really account for a comprehensive understanding of allostatic load, because you can’t tell someone’s social status from their blood (unless it’s blue, obviously).

Allostatic load is one of the main ways hustle culture misses the mark, and by failing to consider individuals as simply that – individuals, we have ended up with the clownery that is “grind harder bro” as advice in the health and fitness sphere.

Not anymore huns. Let’s take on the bros with science and dismantle this stupid want it bad enough rhetoric.

How Allostatic Load Impacts Our Health

A high allostatic load is associated with a litany of health-damaging habits that we are consistently warned against – poor sleep, poor diet and physical activity [4]. This behaviours, couples with allostatic load, are associated with development of metabolic syndrome [5]. Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes. Not ideal.

We all experience allostatic load to varying degrees, at different points in our lives. Allostatic load is not fixed, and it is not abated by fasted cardio or a shirtless influencer telling you don’t want it bad enough. We might all technically have 24 hours in the day – but our hours are different for a whole host of reasons.

What influences allostatic load then?

Influences on Allostatic Load

Most of this section is derived from Guidi et al. (2021) and their excellent systematic review of allostatic load and health. It’s linked in the references if you want to delve a little deeper.

Allostatic load is by nature a very broad concept, with a litany of biopsychosocial influences that cannot possibly be the same for everyone! Hopefully by breaking down some of the main influences on allostatic load, you will see that grindbro advice is bullshit (if you weren’t convinced already).

Socioeconomic Status

This is the big one that middle-class, 19 year old personal trainers whose job is to exercise don’t want to talk about. A lower socioeconomic status is consistently associated with higher levels of allostatic load[6-7]. It is hard to be poor. You don’t have the option of only buying organic fruits harvested by Tibetan monks whilst the mercury isn’t in retrograde. You don’t have the luxury of a gym membership, let alone with one that has all the equipment to follow your “banish bingo wings” arm routine. Living in poverty, unsafe neighbourhoods and having little access to educational services are all barriers to health and influence our allostatic load [2].

Of course, these influences are not necessarily definitive, and just because you are less well-off doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be unable to cope. Individuals can adapt to circumstances, and those who are more resilient to their circumstances can better handle their allostatic load.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind we aren’t all starting from the same financial or social background as Beyoncé or your favourite influencer.

Work & Environment

Kim K said it best when she said it seems like nobody wants to work these days. And she is right. Especially when your job is unfulfilling, stressful or poorly paid. Let alone if you have to work two jobs to keep your head above water.

Several studies have linked a high allostatic load with work-related stress, a poor quality job and healthcare’s favourite – burnout syndrome [8-10]. Some of us aren’t in a position to change jobs, or have a job with demanding working hours.

For example, I am typing this from a 20 hour shift. I most certainly do not have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyoncé (although if she wants to get me a few patients from the wards, that would be stellar). This directly influences my exercise and diet patterns – I have limited access to food unless I bring it from home, and I certainly can’t abandon patients to get a gym session in.

In addition, our environment can be a powerful influence on our allostatic load, and for many of us it’s out of our control [2]. If you have children, you can’t just give them back (even though you might be tempted sometimes). It is incredibly demanding and stressful to have children – they impact sleep quality and limit your “free time” to exercise or prepare food. You are also impacted by their tastes and likes.

Furthermore, your home environment can be incredibly stressful. Some individuals are unfortunate to experience adverse childhood events, poverty or abuse. It is incredibly ignorant and short-sighted to assume that things are the same for them as privileged folks who grew up in stable homes.

Physical Health

One of the most powerful influences on our allostatic load that hits home the most for me is an individuals’ existing physical health[2] . Any health condition, be it chronic or acute is stressful.

If you have spent your life in “good physical health”, you really need to think before you offer advice to those less fortunate. For example, telling individuals to just “move more” is incredibly ignorant to those suffering with chronic pain conditions. When my lower back flares up with debilitating sciatica, of course I want to move. It also kills me to take a single step. I don’t have the same facilities as a more able-bodied individual and to suggest that we are the same is flat-out lunacy.

In addition, individuals who suffer from conditions like obesity or heart disease also experience a huge emotional burden associated with their condition [11,12]. Individuals may feel shame or guilt about their health and this can create barriers to exercise or diet. Is you shirtless screaming at me to just fkn lift bro into your tiny influencer mic really going to help get me into the gym? Or is it going to create fear and anxiety around going because it is apparently full of lunatics?


I could go on forever, but I think it’s probably for the best I stop here and do my best to retain some semblance of light behind my eyes.

In conclusion, we all process things differently based on our lived experience, current experience and our biology. That’s literally the point. Heaping pressure and shame on individuals to carry out your stupid grindbro training plan and macro split actually just adds to our allostatic load, and doesn’t take it away so shove it up your h—thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed and I’m off to scream into the abyss now goodbye.


  1. McEwen BS, Stellar E (1993) Stress and the individual: mechanisms leading to disease. Arch Intern Med 153(18), pp. 2093-2101.
  2. Guidi J, Lucente M, Sonino N et al. (2021) Allostatic Load and Its Impact on Health: A Systematic Review. Psychother Psychosom 90(1), pp. 11-27.
  3. Ruini C, Offidani E, Vescovelli F (2013) Life Stressors, Allostatic Overload, and Their Impact on Posttraumatic Growth. J Loss Trauma 20(2), pp. 109-122.
  4. Szanton SL, Gill JM, Allen JK (2005) Allostatic Load: A Mechanism of Socioeconomic Health Disparities? Bio Res Nurs 7(1).
  5. Seeman TE, McEwen BS, Rowe JW et al (2001) Allostatic load as a marker of cumulative biological risk: MacArthur studies of successful aging. PNAS 98(8), pp. 4770-4775.
  6. Gustafsson PE, Janlert U, Theorell T et al. (2011) Socioeconomic status over the life course and allostatic load in adulthood: results from the Northern Swedish Cohort. J Epidemiol Comm Health 65(11), pp. 986-992.
  7. Johnson SC, Cavallaro FL, Leon DA (2017) A systematic review of allostatic load in relation to socioeconomic position: poor fidelity and major inconsistencies in biomarkers employed. Soc Sci Med 192, pp. 66-73.
  8. Sun J, Wang S, Zhang JQ et al. (2007) Assessing the cumulative effects of stress: the association between job stress and allostatic laod in a large sample of Chinese employees. Work Stress 21(4), pp. 333-347.
  9. Chandola T, Zhang N (2018) Re-employment, job quality, health and allostatic load biomarkers: prospective evidence from the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Int J Epidemiol 47(1), pp. 47-57.
  10.  Hinsta T, Elovainio M, Jokela M et al. (2016) Is there an independent association between burnout and increased allostatic load? Testing the contribution of psychological distress and depression. J Health Psychol 21(8), pp. 1576-1586.
  11.  Sarwer DB, Polonsky HM (2016) The Psychosocial Burden of Obesity. Endocrinol Metabl Clin North Am 45(3), pp. 677-688.
  12.  Porcelli P, Laera D, Mastrangelo D et al. (2012) Prevalence of allostatic overload syndrome in patients with chronic cardiovascular disease. Psychother Psychosom 81(6), pp. 375-377.

Published by Michelle Carroll

I am an online coach (MSc Sports & Exercise Nutrition, EQF Level 4 Personal Trainer, PN Level 1) and radiographer (BSc). I believe in empowering others to make better choices for their health through education. I think that the fitness industry has created a disconnect between best practices and “evidence-based” practices. I hope by chronicling my experience as a healthcare professional and my education as a fitness professional I can assist others on the path to bettering themselves.

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