Does Exercise Increase or Decrease Cortisol?

How can you decrease cortisol? Does exercise help or hurt? 

Are there studies showing exercise elevates cortisol? (Because someone else said exercise reduces cortisol). –Sandrama heynemana

Two considerations

  • The type and timing of the exercise
  • The population studied.. was it you?

The question to ask is whether or not your exercise has a positive or negative effect on stress for you.

It’s whether or not the type AND the timing of your exercise has a positive or negative effect on stress.

You’ll have to give up that old dogma, more is better. Longer sessions of moderate exercise, that “steady state” you learned decades ago, actually increase cortisol with less of a positive post exercise cortisol reduction

A few points to keep in mind:

  • High intensity exercise is associated with reduced hot flashes but yoga and light exercise is not.
  • Reduced Body Mass Index (BMI) is associated with reduced menopause symptoms. (In a recent episode I described BMI, waist-to-hip ratio, waist circumference, and body fat – I’ll link to that if you’re unsure of the difference).
  • . steady state exercise increases cortisol secretion 150% -and for females in midlife that could halt weight loss
  • Late day exercise of high intensity can be detrimental due to a “pregnenelone steal” and a negative effect of elevated cortisol, then lack of desired result: decrease cortisol
  • High intensity exercise early doesn’t cause a negative rise in cortisol because it’s already elevated, but does give a positive reduction late day to help relaxation and sleep.

Choose your objective before you choose your exercise. Bone density? Decrease cortisol? Yoga may be fantastic for you if you’re most in need of rest and relaxation before you go on for more. And always, if what you’re doing is working, don’t fix it. But if it’s not, you have to make a change to see and feel a change.

Also, if you can successfully lose weight from your exercise you will reduce menopause symptoms.

For weight loss, specifically fat loss, to occur:

  • Optimize cortisol
  • Increase fat oxidation during and after exercise

Those two things only happen with the right type and timing of exercise.

You’ve been brainwashed for decades to believe more exercise is better and any time you do exercise is better than not doing exercise. During menopause, just as your hormones have changed the way your body responds to many things, it also changes the way you respond to exercise.

Do short sessions of High Intensity Interval Training and short strength training sessions where you reach muscular fatigue to provide exercise stimulus to offset the negative effects of stress.

Do them in the morning. That way you can decrease cortisol.

Morning is Best

You do use cortisol during those exercise sessions and elevate it higher, AND… you have the appropriate desired decrease of cortisol AFTER.

Time your exercise early when you’re doing intense exercise. Or if you have to exercise late in the day reduce your intensity. Remember you use cortisol for exercise. Your cortisol levels are declining throughout the day which is what should happen so you’re relaxed and ready to sleep.

Early intense exercise that elevates cortisol rewards you later with the desired drop in cortisol. Late day exercise does not. And you’ve done something called a “pregnenolone steal” which means you got through the workout, but you may not sleep well because that calm, chill feeling supplied by pregnenolone is missing… you’ve used it up.

That all backfires on you. Without sleep, you can’t have optimal cortisol, testosterone, growth hormone, and checking off that box for intervals late in the afternoon may keep you fat and tired.

You’ve heard it before, timing is everything. Especially to decrease cortisol.

You might get away with strength training late day. It doesn’t quite rev you up the way a HIIT does.

Low to moderate exercise intensity of various durations are also helpful. The important part?

Enjoy it. Focus less on the number of calories you’re burning than the number of smiles during the movement.

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