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​Is Cortisol the Reason, your Exercise Program, is Not Working?​

Monday, May 20, 2019

Fresh Squeezed Blog/Stress/​Is Cortisol the Reason, your Exercise Program, is Not Working?​

Blame it on the cortisol.

Most people are aware that the "stress hormone," cortisol, can wreak havoc on the body when present in excessive volumes in the blood for extended periods. Cortisol has gotten a bad rap in recent times, but without a healthy, regulated cortisol response, your body would be incapable of responding to any stress resulting in a condition called Addison's disease or hypocortisolism.

As with most things in nature, balance is vital. Low cortisol is just as bad as excessive cortisol. The ultimate goals should be: 1. identify your normal range and 2. make the necessary changes to reach your normal levels.

There are tons of available resources online that advocate strenuous cardio type activities to help combat "adrenal fatigue" or to help balance out cortisol imbalances. What many of these resources fail to recognize is the intensity of the exercise may play an essential role in how much you stand to gain or lose from your workout.

How much effort should you put in?

Every person is unique and has different needs in terms of how strenuous their physical activity should be. If you are already in a stressed state, doing very rigorous exercise may result in feeling extraordinarily fatigued, and "ill" post work out. If this is happening to you, you may need to decrease the intensity just before you get to that level of fatigue.

This phenomenon is due to a very well established mathematical principle known as the law of diminishing returns. Once you get to the point of diminishing returns while exercising, you should dial it back a little because you are heading straight for negative returns. During the point of diminishing returns you are working twice as hard for half of the gains (see graph above).

Here is what's happening in your body when you go too far!

Another important concept you should know is that your body is not aware of the concept of "exercising." Your body is a finely tuned machine that has one goal in mind, survival. To your body, the only logical reason why you would be pushing yourself with such intensity is to escape a ferocious predator!

Under normal circumstances, brief exposures to stressful events can be taken care of effectively by most peoples bodies. However, under prolonged periods of stress (from any source be it predator, career, or exercise) can result in dangerous elevations of cortisol. Excessive cortisol hormone can cause elevations in blood pressure, blood sugar, water retention, decreased immune system, bone weakness, muscle loss, skin changes, loss of libido, and weight gain. Note: This is not an exclusive list of the effects of excessive cortisol.

Clinically, I have witnessed many of these effects in patients who typically present healthy but due to a "new workout program" that is all the rave they have increased blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, muscle loss, and low sex drive.

What can you do to stop this from happening?
If your exercise regimen is not working, and you feel like you are gaining weight instead of losing it. When you complete your workout, you feel like you need to take a nap to keep going. You may be pushing yourself beyond where you are most productive.

You should stop exercising before you get to this point. Every person is unique, and the amount of time is going to vary from person to person. Listen to your body and take breaks if you need them, and don't forget to stay hydrated and replenish with electrolytes. If you are still experiencing this same fatigue no matter how much you pace yourself, you may need more extensive lab-work to get to the underlying cause of this fatigue. Our office is here to support your healthcare needs.

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Important Disclaimer: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only; it is NOT meant to substitute professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should NOT use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem/disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please schedule an appointment or call 203-693-1429 for individualized natural medicine.

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Dr. Pamela Santapaola and Dr. Giovanni Nelson write and medically review all the content.

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