While high-impact workouts may seem like the best option to get healthier and reduce stress, it may actually be the opposite. The stress hormone, cortisol, is responsible for metabolism regulation, blood sugar levels, sleep quality, and reproductive health, just to name a few (via Shape). When you go from a high-stress job, to a high-stress home situation or commute, and then to a high-stress workout, your cortisol levels can quickly get imbalanced, wreaking havoc on your adrenals.
If you’ve heard of adrenal fatigue, this process has a lot to do with it. Your adrenals are the glands that create cortisol and regulate these bodily systems. Mike Molloy, Ph.D., tells Shape, “Stress is anything that triggers the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, so any stress (be it mental, emotional, or physical) can cause a cortisol response in the body.” Rigorous exercise naturally increases cortisol and, if you’re living a high-stress life in other areas, it can be like adding fuel to the fire.
When your body is in a state of constant stress, these elevated cortisol levels can induce issues with sleeping, weight gain, anxiety, depression, and more (via WebMD). In other words, sometimes a high-stress workout like cross-fit or endurance training can do more harm than good.
Low-impact workouts can help balance your hormones
Generally, if you’re working out and spiking your cortisol, the increase is temporary (via Well+Good). It’s only when your levels elevate for an extended period of time that you’ll start to run into problems. So, if you’re working out at a high intensity for most days each week for an hour or longer, your adrenals are likely surging with cortisol.
Robin Berzin, MD, shares with Well+Good, “If cortisol levels are chronically high, it can increase hormones like testosterone and subsequently estrogen, while also decreasing hormones like progesterone. Which can cause disruptions in the menstrual cycle and acne.” Even though it may be antithetical to the old-school adage, “no pain, no gain”, lower-impact workouts may be what’s best for your physical and mental health.
If you’re looking for a low-impact workout, you can start out by trying a yoga, pilates, or barre class. While these won’t be easy by any means, they focus on movements and breathwork which help to bring the nervous system back into a state of rest-and-digest after doing the more taxing exercises. Plus, you’ll likely feel less anxious and notice a difference in the depth of your breath after a few classes.
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