Exercise can help you manage your stress levels, and give you a much-needed break from the daily busyness of your life, but it can also increase your stress levels if not kept in check.
It’s important that your flexible with your exercise program to recognize when and what type of exercise you should be doing to support your body and mind.
When you exercise, the demands on your body become greater and your body deviates from its natural setting point (homeostatis), and in response your body releases cortisol, which is released when the body is under stress.
Cortisol is a result of our primal days when we needed literally a fight or flight response when we were in danger. We either needed to run from what was hunting us, or stay and fight our ground.
When you exercise at a high intensity, research has shown at an intensity above 40%, cortisol is released into the body. A lot of this cortisol is used during your training session as energy, but some will remain in the body post training session.
Cortisol is a natural immunosuppressive meaning that it suppresses the immune system, if the body has high levels of cortisol on a consistent basis, which unfortunately due to high demands placed on is is usually the case. If cortisol is also not used as fuel it ends up stored on your stomach area for easy access the next time you need the fight or flight hormone. A lot of lean people find that this is a sticking point for them, as they can’t manage their cortisol levels enough to lose their gut.
So what can you do about it?
Because cortisol is released due to stress, exercise training will increase the threshold – as you become fitter, the exercise that you do won’t be as strainful on the body, so won’t be a perceived threat, meaning that less cortisol will be released in response.
If you are already stressed, and adding high intensity exercise sessions into your routine, this is only going to put more stress on your body and as learn earlier is going to affect your immune system, meaning that you will be more susceptible to colds, and viruses that are circulating. Instead of doing your high intensity sessions, plan lower intensity sessions working at 40% or lower of your abilities to support your body and mind instead of increasing its workload.
Also think about what time you are doing your exercise sessions. High intensity sessions what to be done away from your bedtime, so your nervous system and body has time to rest and restore before sleeping, otherwise you will find yourself waking up during the night – I would recommend at least 3 hours if not more between finishing your session and bedtime to ensure a restful nights sleep.
It’s important to listen to your body. Before starting your exercise session, tune inwards and ask what your body needs – listen carefully and follow its response.