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Cortisol Conscious Workouts

When you think of cortisol, what are the first thoughts that come to mind? Cortisol, more commonly known as the stress hormone, is essential in our day-to-day lives and one of the most necessary hormones, providing us with the required energy.

While working out and physical exercise are for many people the best ways to combat stress and rejuvenate the mind and body, for others, exercise can potentially do more harm than good and deplete them of their energy. Strenuous and daily exercise is undoubtedly beneficial, but it can also do a number on our hormones.

Just What is Cortisol?

Cortisol can have many different actions, depending on which cells are called upon. From controlling salt and water balance to regulating metabolism and acting as an anti-inflammatory, this hormone does a lot to keep the body regulated. It is also involved in multiple bodily functions and its primary roles include increasing blood sugar synthesis in the liver, assisting in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism, and suppressing the immune system.

Cortisol is needed to maintain optimal health, and its levels fluctuate throughout the day in accordance with circadian rhythms. They are naturally higher in the morning, gradually slowing during the day until they hit their lowest in the evening. For people that work at night, the pattern is reversed.

Too much or too little cortisol can be problematic, and inconsistent and fluctuating levels can affect the body. High amounts can lead to increased blood pressure, weight gain and muscle soreness, and low amounts can lead to weight loss and cause fatigue.

Some ways to curb the rise of cortisol is by being conscious of recovery time and listening to our body and how it wants to move on any given day. Recovery is tremendously important; without sufficient time for the body to recover, there is an increased risk of injury and a decreased performance level, subsequently leading to missed fitness goals. Foam rolling, stretching, massages, physical therapy, taking an Epsom salt bath and reading a book are all efficient ways to help the body recover.

What Time of Day is Best to Exercise?

In the fitness world, you are guaranteed to come across the runner who’s up at 4 a.m., the late-night gym-goer and the after-work class frequenter. You can spend hours reading article after article, each one outlining the best time to work out or why exercising in the morning is better when in reality the best time for YOU is when YOU can commit and be consistent with, and what works best for you and your daily schedule.

The human body likes consistency and is highly adaptable; it will adjust to whatever workout time is most comfortable for you.

What Kind of Workouts Can I Do to be Cortisol-Conscious?

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Walking
  • Low-HR jogging
  • Swimming
  • Low-intensity training (LIT)
  • High-intensity, low-impact training (HILIT)
  • Boutique studios who offer 30 min classes

When we do high-intensity training or endurance exercise, our bodies release cortisol in response to the stress they are being put under. It’s important to be cognizant of all cortisol levels. That does not mean you have to stop your HIIT class, but you will have to adjust. Think of adding one of the workouts above. It is about finding balance in both workout routines and cortisol levels and allowing your body to recover.

Along with rest and recovery, be sure to consume enough calories in a day, especially nutritious plant-based foods and adequate amounts of proteins and carbohydrates after your workout sessions. Supplements such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are also strong aides in recovery.

Ask why you exercise and what you enjoy most about it. Is it to reduce stress, tap into those infectious endorphins, socialize with friends, or train for that half-marathon? Not all exercise is created equal, nor is it right for everybody. Listening to your body and what it enjoys can help make educated and cortisol-conscious workout choices.


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