Using Exercise To Manage Your Stress | Great Health Guide
Using Exercise To Manage Your Stress

Using Exercise To Manage Your Stress

This article is taken from the upcoming Issue 4 of our magazine. Issues 1, 2 and 3 are now available through the App store and Google Play store. Please subscribe to the Great Health Guide magazine – (subscription FREE for limited time only)
iTunesor Androidstore

Using Exercise to Manage Your Stress written by Tanya Doherty

Exercise can help you manage your stress levels and give you a much-needed break from the daily ‘busyness’ of your life. But exercise can also increase your stress levels if you are not listening and responding to your body’s needs.

It’s important that you are flexible with your exercise program to recognize when and what type of exercise you should be doing to support your body and mind.

When you exercise, the demands on your body become greater and your body deviates from its natural settling point. In response your body releases the hormone cortisol to help deal with the stress. In this case it’s the exercise that’s the stressor.

Cortisol is called a ‘stress hormone’ which, tracing back to our primal days, was an essential defence mechanism.  Back then we literally had to ‘fight or flight’ when in danger. We either needed to run from what was threatening us, or stay and fight our ground. We don’t need cortisol for ‘fight or flight’ in a hunting context anymore (hopefully!), but it is still needed in this day and age. 

Cortisol is synthesized by the cortex (outer part) of the adrenal glands that are located on the top of each kidney. Other hormones are produced by the brain to increase or decrease cortisol. The primary function of cortisol is to make energy available by metabolizing glycogen and fat stores into glucose to increase blood glucose levels. It works against another hormone, insulin which is produced by the pancreas to reduce blood glucose levels.  If cortisol levels remain high, resulting in high blood glucose levels, then insulin production becomes high as well in an attempt to maintain the correct level of blood glucose. If both cortisol and insulin remain high for extensive periods, then insulin resistance occurs which may result in diabetes. 

Cortisol narrows arteries and together with adrenalin produced from the inner part of the adrenal glands, increases blood pressure and heart rate. Thus for ‘flight or fight’, the body needs high blood glucose for immediate energy together with an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. 

Cortisol is a natural immune-suppressant, meaning that it suppresses the immune system and prevents the release of substances that cause inflammation. If the body is producing high levels of cortisol on a consistent basis, when higher demands are placed on the body, this can lead to a depression of the immune system.  This then lowers our resistance to disease and contributes to poor wound healing. We do need cortisol to help keep us motivated and deal with daily tasks but when it remains consistently high it becomes a problem.

Research has shown that when you exercise at an intensity above 40%, cortisol is released into the body. Most of the cortisol is used during your training session to increase energy by increasing blood sugar levels from stored glycogen and fat, increasing blood flow and heart rate. However, some cortisol will remain in the body after the training session.

When cortisol is continually produced at high levels in the body, it can lead to insulin imbalance allowing continuous high blood sugar levels. This results in an increase in visceral fat in the abdomen and around vital organs and leads to obesity. This happens because you are not effectively dealing with your stressors. You may find that even though you exercise regularly and eat wholesome foods, you carry extra weight around your stomach. So other disease symptoms are likely to follow as a result of excess cortisol which hasn’t been utilized effectively.

So how can you manage this?

Because cortisol is released due to stress, exercise training will increase your threshold.  As you become fitter, the exercise that you do won’t be as stressful on the body, so it won’t be a perceived threat, meaning that less cortisol will be released in response. 

However, if you are already stressed and by adding high intensity exercise sessions into your routine, this is only going to put more stress on your body and as mentioned earlier, it is going to affect your immune system. This means that you will be more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. In this situation, instead of doing your high intensity sessions, plan lower intensity sessions working at 40% or lower of your abilities and this will provide support to your body and mind, instead of increasing its workload. You might be interested in a study which showed the effectiveness of low intensity exercise in controlling cortisol levels.  

If you are feeling stressed, try and do some meditative, flowing exercise with gentle movements to help regulate your breathing, lower your stress levels and calm yourself. Some great examples are yoga, swimming and walking. You should leave your planned higher intensity sessions until you are feeling less stressed.

It’s important to listen to your body. Before starting your exercise session, tune inwards and ask what your body needs. Listen carefully and follow its response – you already have the answer inside of you.

Author of this article

Tanya Doherty is the founder of ‘Beachfit and Wellbeing’ and
a Personal Trainer with MMA (Mixed martial arts) Level 1 Fitness. She is also a Charles Poliquin Biosignature practitioner.  Based in Sydney, Tanya works in assisting women and men to live in optimum health. Tanya can be found at her 
website or her Facebook page.
This article is taken from the upcoming Issue 4 of our magazine. Issues 1, 2 and 3 are now available through the App store and Google Play store. Please subscribe to the Great Health Guide magazine – (subscription FREE for limited time only)
iTunesor Androidstore

Author Great Health Guide

More posts by Great Health Guide

Leave a Reply