Can you use movement to reduce elevated cortisol, which is a result of overtraining?
Yes, it's totally okay to move our bodies to reduce cortisol, but we want to do it right — especially if we're overtrained.
Cortisol is the stress hormone that is often chronically elevated when we're overtrained and burnt out. When it comes to exercise, the main contributors to chronically elevated cortisol are long cardio exercise, like running, and also very intense exercise, like HIT.
Why Does Cortisol Get Elevated?
If the body perceives stress, our adrenals secrete cortisol. That's a normal response to exercise. When we exercise moderately and rest enough, everything should be fine as the cortisol goes up as we exercise and back down after we're done.
But if we work out too much, too long and don't rest enough, this stress hormone gets secreted continuously. The body doesn't know that we're just running on the treadmill, trying to *earn* our dinner… Which is a good place to remind you: You never have to earn your dinner. You've already earned it by being here, breathing and living your life. Nothing extra needed.
As a result of too much or too long exercise, the body doesn't have enough resources to make many other hormones, including sex hormones (like progesterone).
There's a thing called pregnenolone steal. Pregnenolone is so called mother hormone, what both cortisol and progesterone are made of. Now, in a situation of stress, the body chooses to make more cortisol to help you out in the stressful situation, and has less resources to make progesterone. Also our adrenals work on an overdrive to make that cortisol, and our thyroid hormones become low.
As a result, we may experience cycle issues, and most commonly, irregular cycles or too short luteal phase (the phase from your ovulation to your period).
Can You Reduce Cortisol By Exercising?
Yes, movement can be a GREAT way to reduce cortisol but it has to be the right kind of movement.
How to Move to Reduce Cortisol:
Yin yoga or other restorative type of yoga
Stretching and foam rolling
Lying on the couch – okay, this is not exactly movement but important 😊
How NOT to Move If Your Cortisol Is Chronically Elevated:
“Real quick” HIT
“A little” run
Uphill power walk
Pedalling on the elliptical, checking work emails (STRESS alert🚨)
It's been shown that our bodies' response is different when we walk in nature and when we walk through a shopping mall – and it’s not hard to guess which one is better for us… The nature walk, of course. Walking in a forest, on the beach or at the park is very different from walking on the treadmill, catching up on work emails.
So, gentle movement can be a great way to reduce cortisol and bring the body back to balance! The intense stuff can wait – it's still there once we start feeling better.