Stress increases the amount of cortisol hormone your body produces. This increase occurs during both psychological stress and physical stress, including exercise. During exercise, your body uses cortisol to help metabolize fat for fuel. Although intense exercise, such as aerobics, causes a temporary increase in cortisol, regular exercise helps control your cortisol levels and reduces the stress this hormone places on your body.
Your hypothalamus plays an important role in cortisol production. This gland responds to a perceived threat by signaling an alarm to the rest of your body, causing your adrenal glands to release a surge of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Cortisol provides a sudden burst in energy by increasing the glucose in your bloodstream. These temporary elevations usually return to normal after the perceived threat passes. Constant elevations in cortisol, though, can increase your risk of several serious health disorders, including obesity and heart disease, according to the University of New Mexico. Regular exercise and other lifestyle changes can play an important role in helping prevent health risks due to an overexposure to cortisol.
Physical stress causes a temporary increase in cortisol production. An increase in cortisol production during exercise helps preserve your carbohydrate stores and encourages your body to metabolize additional fuels such as amino acids and fatty acids for energy, according to the University of New Mexico. This increase in cortisol production corresponds to the intensity of your effort.
Although individual exercise sessions cause a temporary increase in cortisol production, regular exercise helps lower your cortisol levels. According to the "Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice," studies indicate that even 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise may help reduce cortisol levels. The University of New Mexico states that stress can be reduced by getting regular exercise.
Tell your doctor about any symptoms of stress that may indicate high levels of cortisol. You may be required to take a blood test to measure the amount of this hormone in your body. Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine, especially if you are obese, have a medical disorder or have been sedentary for a long time.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Adaptation of the Hypothalamopituitary Adrenal Axis to Chronic Exercise Stress in Humans
- University of New Mexico: The Role of Cortisol in Concurrent Training
- International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: Exercise and the Stress System
- IJAHSP: Depressed, Low Self-Esteem: What Can Exercise Do for You?
- University of New Mexico: Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.