Too Tired to Exercise: Is It Adrenal Fatigue? Special Edition

breakfast tiredI often talk with women frustrated that they can’t lose weight or that don’t get energy from their exercise routine any more. After trying what used to work for them, or trying to piece together several random pieces of exercise – all that might have worked before – they’re just tired, not better.

Adrenal fatigue isn’t at the bottom of all those challenges. Sometimes it’s simply a mis-match of old strategy and new situation. (If you’re trying to exercise like you did in your 20s and 30s for instance in your 50s and 60s, that’s just not going to work. You can be in the best shape of your life, as long as you exercise in the now.)

Could adrenal fatigue be a part of what’s going on for you? It would be easy to start stepping down that path and not recognize it. Here are a few signs and symptoms of four stages of adrenal fatigue.

During the early stages of adrenal fatigue most women don’t even realize it. We’re so used to pushing through, feeling tired, and constant to-do lists that low energy levels get swept under the rug. Who has time for that? The biggest problems don’t occur with the first stage. If you’re in good health, your body has reserves. If you don’t have those reserves initially and or you don’t get relief from the stressors and the situation progresses, that’s when your body is most likely to begin some breakdown.

Stage 1 Adrenal Fatigue:

What’s Happening:

  • Onset of a stressor
  • Elevated cortisol, DHEA, and insulin

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Increased arousal and alertness
  • Sleep may suffer

How to Cope:

When you have uncontrollable stressors, rather than keep your life the same, reduce some self-imposed stress. Reduce the frequency, intensity, or duration of exercise. Get help around the house or let some things go. Make meal prep easier with short cuts or making large batches of simple-to-make foods that are work for your body. 

Stage 2 Adrenal Fatigue:

What’s Happening:

  • Some drop in DHEA because of increased need for production of cortisol
  • Your wired but tired

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Unhealthy reliance on coffee or sugar, maybe even exercise although its not working
  • Might be an unhealthy seek for control with routine, rigidity, or inability to shift gears

How to Cope:

Rely on support systems to help you identify when you’re mood is different. You won’t notice it as much as others when you’re caught in the storm. You may be exhausted but unable to sleep. You may sleep for short spurts or be in bed normal periods of time but never feel rested.

Get fresh air. Get time for you both with friends and alone doing something you enjoy. Buff up your nutrition through both food and supplements to target nutrient insufficiencies. This is especially true if you have a special diet; you don’t eat meat, you’re a picky eater, or eat a lot of processed foods. Reduce your exposure to toxins in your environment.

fatigue while travelingStage 3 Adrenal Fatigue:

What’s Happening:

  • Further drops in DHEA and testosterone.
  • Sex hormone precursors are shifted to cortisol production.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Increasingly constant tiredness
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Regular infections or illness
  • Lower sex drive

How to Cope:

Shift gears into self-care to prevent a major bottoming out. Take a day off before and or after a weekend to extend your rest time. Unplug from social media. Elevate your nutrition game to add antioxidants and boost overall food quality. Remove alcohol, reduce coffee and any processed foods. Let rest and recovery precede exercise. Move, but in recovery modes like yoga, walks. Get outdoors. Get sunlight. Do things that bring you joy.

Stage 4 Adrenal Fatigue:

What’s Happening:

  • Your body is out of reserves.
  • The adrenals have already recruited other hormones.
  • That’s no longer working.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weight loss
  • Apathy

stomach ache


How to Cope:

Time off, patience, and a complete change of lifestyle are required if things go this far. Consider changing a stressful job, especially if you have a long commute or travel too frequently. Nutrition with a focus on gut health is a priority. Stop exercise for now if you haven’t already. Add deep breathing and restorative yoga. Get help bringing hormone levels to a balance as you make these lifestyle changes. Start listening to your body again. Set things in place to prevent this kind of burnout from happening again.

Generic stripHow to Avoid Adrenal Fatigue

Shut down electronics whenever possible. Get outdoors daily for sunlight and fresh air. Guard your sleep and don’t let anything (pets, snoring, light) disrupt it. Plan exercise, rest, and stressful tasks in life with equal importance. Your body things a major life crisis or a big project at work is running a marathon. Adding or keeping strenuous exercise to that is pushing on the gas pedal with nothing in the tank.

Your adrenals are linked to other systems in the body. Your thyroid levels can drop when your adrenals are going into high gear. That can be simply a sign of the body balancing itself. It’s not always a sign of thyroid problems. Check in with your lifestyle habits. It could be an early warning sign that you need to make changes now to reverse symptoms and prevent a more serious problem. Time off, less but higher quality exercise, and reduction of overall stress can lighten the load on your system. We don’t take rest & recovery serious enough until we have to, and then too often think the only option is a medication. Look first at nutrition, sleep, exercise, rest and the presence of joy and peacefulness in your life.

You have control.

Did you find yourself in one of the descriptions above?

If you’re sure it’s not adrenal fatigue but you do know you want to regroup, the September 28-Day Kickstart can help. Save a spot.

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