Can you exercise too much?
It helps regulate your blood pressure and get you out of bed. It’s also known as a stress hormone, and too much exercise can produce too much of it.
That’s right: Sometimes, going the extra mile might work against you.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released by the adrenal gland throughout the day. Physical and emotional stress can artificially elevate its levels in the body, and too much can mean inflammation, fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
Cortisol is released when you exercise, too. It’s a normal response. When you push your body past its limits or have a long workout, your body will release cortisol.
A high level of cortisol can impair some of your regular body functions and slow down your metabolism. When you work out, it’s important to listen to your body and have more consistency than high-intensity workouts.
“The key is to avoid overtraining, both aerobically and with strength training,” says Louis Cohn, a physical therapist at Aurora Sports Health in Kenosha, Wis. “When starting out, aerobic sessions should be kept between 30 and 45 minutes. You are then able to obtain the positive effects of cardiovascular training without the negative effects of over-training.”
He says strength training should be kept to 45 minutes, with focus on exercises that work multiple joints, like rows for scapular muscles and biceps instead of curls, which only exercise your biceps. Include 45-60 second rests between sets and allow 48 hours of rest between same muscle group training.
If you’re feeling extra tired or have lost strength, try low-impact workouts for active rest days like a walk or some low-intensity yoga or tai chi.
Here are some tips to keep a healthy cortisol level during your workouts:
- Don’t overdo it. Take regular breaks from intense training and listen to your body.
- Leave intense sessions to later in the day, when cortisol levels are naturally lower.
- Eat right to fuel your body and make sure you consume carbohydrates and protein after exercise to decrease the cortisol response.
- Increase your recovery time between sets or workouts.
“If you find yourself losing motivation, there’s no shame in taking a day off,” Cohn says. “Your body is great at telling you what you need. Rather than doing something intensive, substitute a walk around the block.”
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