Try Aerobic Exercise (But Don’t Overdo It)

About the Course

Jessica Cohn-Kleinberg

Written by

Medically Reviewed:

Ioana A. Bina, MD., Ph.D.

Writen on:

November 30, 2021, 9:53:44 AM

Updated:

December 6, 2021, 10:01:07 PM

It’s no secret that a sedentary lifestyle adds to stress. Sitting for over eight hours a day has been linked to a greater risk for depression, anxiety and chronic stress. Exercise is a natural answer. Aside from improving your overall health, exercise can directly influence your cortisol levels, depending on the intensity.

Higher intensity exercise can increase your cortisol, although it will decrease later in the day. It initially rises to manage your body’s growth as you tackle the stressful exercise. Interestingly, with routine training, your system adapts. Your hormonal response is muted. And in some cases, you can lower your base cortisol levels. That comes with a host of potential health implications for dealing with chronic stress.

While higher intensity exercise momentarily increases your levels, researchers have found that lower intensity exercise can decrease it. In fact, when researchers studied those with major depressive disorder, which is linked to chronic stress and an imbalance of cortisol levels, they found that not only does exercise help lower cortisol, the type (aerobic) and frequency (five times a week) helped too. Just be careful. Excessive exercise can cause more stress, leading to overtraining syndrome.

Take Your Training to the Next Level With These Tools

It's time to dig into the best tools for improving your training. Let's look behind the science of two well-established markers of training readiness and recovery: HRV and cortisol.

Spend Time with People for Stress Relief

Your relationships with other people can lower your stress levels, as well as reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost overall mood.

Think about the relationships in your life that bring you peace. Maybe it’s a family member, a trusted friend or a coworker. Often these relationships calm us because we know what to expect from them. We know our role and the other person’s role, bringing a sense of stability. Studies back this up. They show when your social status feels stable, you feel more in control, and your cortisol levels remain lower.

Another study proves that social support can be just as effective as yoga for lowering depression, anxiety and overall stress. A group of prenatally depressed women were split into a yoga group and a social support group. Both met weekly for 12 weeks. At the end of each session, both groups saw lower cortisol levels.

And don’t forget another benefit of social support: hugging. Hugs or other positive physical interactions have also proven to dampen cortisol, raise oxytocin and lower systolic blood pressure during stressful events.

Last, but not least, it’s important to acknowledge your stress. To talk about it. After all, stress often has a root cause, be it financial worries, relationship problems, work deadlines, the death of a loved one or something else. Lifestyle changes can help you manage some of this, but they won’t get to the root cause.

When you address the underlying reason, that’s when you unlock true long-lasting stress management. And you can see the immediate impact on your health. In one study, cognitive behavioural therapy for stress management directly reduced cortisol levels in a group of pregnant women. So remember, a large part of stress relief is acknowledging the main cause and getting help.

Laugh More, Even If Forced

Have you heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”? Well, we can’t say it’s necessarily the best. But it is an effective way to lower cortisol levels, along with releasing endorphins and a host of other health benefits.

One study examined the cortisol levels of those watching an hour-long funny video. A half hour after the video ended, their levels decreased more than the control group. And the effects stay true even if the laughter is forced. In one study of a “laughter yoga” group, which encourages prolonged voluntary laughter, participants saw a significant drop in cortisol levels while the control group did not. It seems you really can laugh away stress.

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