Don’t believe this myth about cortisol levels

Cortisol is our stress hormone and increased levels can be harmful to your health.

The way so many of us are living our lives: election cycles, the pandemic, getting older and being caregivers can drive cortisol levels up.

Some suggest high-intensity exercise can also contribute.

“Elevated levels of cortisol are linked to hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and obesity, all of it,” said Dr. Mary Claire Haver, menopause expert and author of The Galveston Diet. “You need to move your body. There’s not a single study that shows that exercise is harmful in the long run.”

Dr. Haver says exercise can raise cortisol, adding that, it’s not a bad thing.

“When we exercise, especially when we do cardio or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) training, we have a bump in our cortisol with exercise; that’s normal. That is a stress releasing hormone because, when we’re exercising our muscles, we’re stressing them out so that they become stronger in the long run. So, we see an initial bump in cortisol - fine - but it immediately comes down when you’re done exercising and then stays much lower throughout the day, had it been if you’ve never exercised and it’s that baseline cortisol, those levels that we’re trying to decrease over time,” she said.

She says you need three kinds of exercise, which become increasingly more important as you age:

  • Cardiovascular training that we do to keep our heart strong.
  • Resistance training so we can keep our bones and muscles strong.
  • Stretching and balance.

If you still feel like your HIIT training is stressing you out, you can swap it for exercises like: yoga, bike riding and walking.