By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
Cortisol is a hormone that is released when we undergo stress or fear. In today’s world, most of us are over-stressed all the time because we don’t take proper care of ourselves. We work too much, don’t exercise, eat poorly, etc. These things all increase cortisol, which then increases weight gain, emotional instability, and blood pressure—just to name a few. In other words, reducing cortisol levels will lower your stress levels, too, and you’ll feel better.
When it comes to working out, we always think we should go hard or go home. If exercise can reduce stress, hitting it hard should be our magic pill, right? But honestly, are we equipped to handle intense workouts? If we feel too tired to work out, is it bad to exercise?
Exercise can reduce stress, but too much exercise can also cause stress—which can lead to all kinds of problems, injuries, and weight gain.
Fitness professionals are gradually phasing out super intense workouts in favor of exercises that are more cortisol-friendly. As a result, 2019 has seen a rise in shorter workouts and studios that specialize in stretching and meditation.
Shortening the length of workout classes is one of the best ways to control cortisol. For example, if you’re lifting weights, your body will start to automatically release cortisol after about 45-60 minutes. Keeping your workouts under the 45-minute mark will help you get great results without over-stressing your bod. This is good news, since who has time to spend hours at the gym anyway?
This is one of the reasons HIIT workouts have been so popular. HIIT workouts are short, intense spurts of exercise that have been shown to give people faster results. They’re great for reducing cortisol levels, so expect to see more shortened HIIT classes at the 30-45 minute mark.
30-minute classes are already being offered at Equinox, F45, Switch Playground (in NYC), and Peloton. Since we love the results of HIIT workouts, we will see it integrated into every type of exercise—even Zumba, pilates, and yoga.
Recovery will be a main focus of fitness this year. We often forget about the benefits of muscle recovery in training, but it’s just as important as exercise! If you don’t take the time to massage and foam roll, you’re opening yourself up to injury and hurting your gains! Regenerative practices help us move through our whole range of motion during exercise, which is crucial to get the best results from training and to stay active year after year.
Several new gyms focus on just stretching. There are several boutique studios sprinkled around the country now, but one of my favorites is LYMBR because it has the most locations from West Hollywood to NYC, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Regardless of whether or not you have time to go to a stretching studio on top of your regular exercise schedule, you should be stretching after your workouts. Here are my favorite products to help you speed up your post-workout recovery from the comfort of your own home:
Mental workouts have become just as important as physical workouts. There’s been a huge rise in people practicing meditation in order to manifest their desires, increase happiness, and tune into their feelings. Meditation is becoming increasingly popular because it also helps you manage your stress levels outside of the gym. Say goodbye to cortisol!
When your cortisol levels are high, try meditation. All kinds of fitness classes complement their activities with it. For example, practicing mindfulness during a HIIT workout can help you bring awareness to certain body parts and engage those muscles better. As such, you’ll be on your way towards reducing your cortisol levels.
The biggest trend we’ve seen thus far this year has been studios designed just for meditation. I’ve checked out a few of these and honestly love them. They’re usually filled with some type of peaceful music that instantly transports you to a different place and helps you separate yourself from your To-Do list and stress. If you’re in NYC, check out INSCAPE, my personal favorite. This studio is audio-guided to help you create a consistent meditation practice, making it easier to form a new meditation habit.
If you don’t have access or the time to go to a meditation studio, there are several apps you can use to meditate from home. My favorite is the Calm app, which you can download from Amazon for free. Calm has over 100 guided meditations that help you sleep and reduce anxiety and stress.
Healthy cortisol levels are often a balance in eustress vs. distress. The biggest takeaway for fitness is that less is sometimes more. Focus on quality over quantity, recover your body and brain in between exercises, and keep your workouts short and efficient.