Your body produces cortisol in response to a perceived threat, promoting the burst of energy that allows you to run or fight. Although your distant ancestors may have benefited from this physiological response, a modern lifestyle that involves high levels of stress may lead to excessive amounts of cortisol in your system. Regular exercise can help reduce your cortisol and stress levels.
What is Cortisol?
Along with adrenalin, the hormone cortisol alters the way your body functions during a fight-or-flight situation. Adrenaline speeds up your heart rate and increases your energy, while cortisol promotes the release of glucose into your blood, providing a source of fuel. Cortisol also suppresses your digestive and immune systems. Elevated levels of cortisol, over time, can increase your risk of developing depression, obesity, insomnia, heart disease and digestive problems. Higher cortisol levels are also linked to obesity and a worsening of skin disorders.
Responding to Exercise
During exercise, your body produces a temporary increase in cortisol, although the level of this hormone quickly returns to normal levels soon after your workout. Regular exercise tends to decrease the usual amount of cortisol in your bloodstream, leading to a reduction in symptoms of stress. Although more research is needed, The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice reports that aerobic exercise seems to have the greatest effect on reducing cortisol levels.
Reducing Cortisol Levels
Aerobic exercise serves to increase your heart rate by using your large muscle groups to perform repetitive movements. This form of exercise encourages your heart and lungs to work harder. Common forms of aerobic exercise include brisk walking, bicycling, skating, running and stair climbing. According to Christopher Bergland of Psychology Today, just 20 to 30 minutes of an aerobic activity can reduce your cortisol levels.
Consider Your Options
Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you are used to a sedentary lifestyle or have a medical condition. Seek professional help if you experience ongoing and continual stress, especially if exercise fails to alleviate this condition. You may need to take additional measures, such as participating in counseling or practicing meditation, to help reduce continual stress.