When it comes to working out, it’s go hard or go home. You’ve got to give every workout 110% and dig deep for those last few reps…right? Well, not necessarily.
For many, strenuous workouts can rejuvenate the mind and body. For others, especially those prone to chronic stress, these intense forms of exercise can actually leave them feeling depleted and do more harm to their wellbeing.
The “grind mode” mentality that our fast paced society has become programmed to may be a contributing factor to the current anxiety crisis. However, there is a growing realization in the holistic wellness industry that relentless long workouts aren’t always better – particularly if they trigger a wave of cortisol, AKA the stress hormone.
The role of cortisol plays a vital and detrimental role in one’s well being. When exposed to “real” stress (e.g a lunging tiger, or nowadays, an oncoming car), cortisol kicks off a cascade of very useful physiological reactions.
For example, glucose is released into the bloodstream so your brain has ample fuel to manage the situation, and nonessential body systems, like digestion and reproduction, are temporarily put into “sleep mode” so you can optimally deal with the threat. In short, cortisol is a great survival tool.
However, in today’s society our current “tigers” are things like demanding bosses, a leaky sink, stand-still traffic, or a family holiday get together, they can also be memories of traumatic experiences from childhood or current situations. Our modern stressors may not be life-threatening, but they can still feel soul-crushing. In response to these unavoidable triggers, cortisol ends up chronically elevated for some people who endure this level of stress for long periods of time.
Cortisol sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, so it temporarily hits pause on regular bodily functions and slows metabolism (it can also prime your body for injury, or signal it to store fat.) This persistently elevated cortisol has a detrimental effect on the body. It can lead to anxiety, depression, weight gain, and memory impairment.
Many have found it difficult to reach certain fitness and wellness goals because of this spike in cortisol leaving their body feeling depleted and mind foggy. However, there has been a rise in cortisol conscious workouts for those who are prone to higher levels of cortisol.
Cortisol Conscious Workouts:
It’s not uncommon in 2019 to come across a shorter training sessions as the new norm, 30-minute classes are already offered by well-known gyms and movement classes like Barre or Apex Strength Training.
For example, just look at the trend of HIIT (high-intensity, low-impact) workouts popping up everywhere on your Instagram feed.
Although your favorite fitness-guru is preaching that these quick, and high intensity workouts are the reasoning of her chiseled abs, they may just be the corporate of your own body putting on an extra 5-10 pounds and stealing your vital energy.
As the name suggests, cortisol-conscious workouts aim to give you an efficient session without triggering the body’s stress response. They tend to be shorter in duration (think 30 to 40 minutes) and veer away from high impact, high-intensity training styles like HIIT. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of HILIT (high intensity, low impact interval training) in gyms around the world.
This style of movement still achieves the same fat-blasting, endorphin-boosting benefits of HIIT, but without all the running and burpee-ing.
Studies show that high-intensity exercise like CrossFit or running causes a temporary rise in cortisol levels. For some people, this doesn’t cause a problem. Cortisol level begin returning to normal as quickly as 15 minutes post-workout.
For those that are affected by the increase of cortisol post workout, may need to carefully consider the form of exercise they engage in.
The good news: some forms of exercise, like yoga, are shown to have a positive effect on cortisol. For example, the same study that concluded that HIIT and other higher intensity workouts caused a temporary rise in cortisol levels also found that after even just one session of hatha yoga, participants were better able to handle stress (as measured by their own perception and were better able to handle stress (as measured by their own perception and their cortisol response) versus controls.
With this perspective shift in conscious movement, those who are sensitive to cortisol, can also participate in mindful exercise to help decrease the effects of stress on the body.
CBD, Cortisol, & Post Workout Recovery:
You may be wondering how CBD fits into this mix of high cortisol levels and strenuous workouts.
CBD has been reported to carry a long list of benefits. Everything from helping chronically ill patients fight nausea, to acting as a sleep aid for those who struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep, to even assisting in pain management.
While those seem like potentially huge breakthroughs, CBD is also said to help with smaller stuff, like assisting you to recover faster from your workouts thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Before you go covering yourself from head to toe in CBD, here is what you need to know:
No matter how fit you are, sometimes you just feel it after a workout. Some workouts can leave you sore for days. That’s because, as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) explains, working out causes microscopic damage to muscle fibers. Those muscles then become inflamed, which triggers the body to respond and repair, causing muscle soreness, stiffness, and produces a boost in cortisol.
According to a 2018 review of 132 original studies published in Frontiers in Neurology, CBD can indeed reduce inflammation in the body and help improve pain and mobility in patients with high levels of joint pain. “It is anti-inflammatory, antiemetic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective,” the review study’s authors wrote.
If you are prone to stress an intense workout perhaps might not be the fit for your body at the time the negative impact of elevated cortisol, you might better serve your overall fitness and health goals by choosing cortisol-conscious workouts like yoga, pilates, or any mindful movement that leaves you feeling rejuvenated, not wrecked.
Bottom line, make sure your workouts work for you. Consider why you exercise. Maybe it’s to improve body composition, enhance focus, increase endorphins, or reduce stress. Not all exercise is right for everybody.