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Exercise and the good kind of stress

This month KineticsCorrect have been working to provide our readers with more knowledge about stress and cortisol. Cortisol being a natural hormone released by the body when the brain its triggered by a stress. It can be a good or bad stressor acting upon the body, and it is the pituitary gland’s job to understand this stimulus acting upon the body and how much cortisol to release to compensate. If you have not already, we recommend that you go and read our previous blog on stress and cortisol before continuing. That will provide you with some knowledge of the basics which are going to be applied in this blog and delved into further on how exercise can be a tool to manage stress.

When we put our body through a workout, the brain is treating it as stress being placed onto the body. This then stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to activate a number of hormonal and physiological responses. An increase in heart rate, increase in blood flow and heightened reflexes are all ways the body is assisting to overcoming this stress, or in this case, support you through the workout. For example, the extra demand placed on your muscles during a weight-lifting session, needs to be reinforced by increased blood flow and energy production.

When we exercise long enough and progress out of the ATP and lactic acid system energy systems, the muscles need oxygen to continue to meet the productivity demands. This heightened activity from the sympathetic nervous system will work to elevate your heart rate, to pump a higher volume of blood around the body faster with the aim of meeting the oxygen levels needed in the muscles and in turn allowing them to maintain this intensity of work.

So far, we have been talking about what happens when we put a stress like exercise on our body and how it responds. But what does exercise do to positively affect the physiological response to cortisol. Exercises encourages your body to release endorphins into the blood stream that are your ‘feel-good’ hormones. In simple form, this rush of endorphins will counter-act the level of cortisol in the blood and bring the body back to feeling normal again. Incorporating exercise into your weekly routine will strengthen your body’s ability to adapt to stressors applied to the body. It will encourage a positive relationship between the release of cortisol and endorphins, so your body has a better understanding of when to react to a stimulus and when not to, to prevent over stimulation and over production of cortisol.

Exercise also has many psychological benefits on your body, and these will be different for everyone depending on your different goals. Even just the release of endorphins will have a positive influence on depression, anxiety, immunity and metabolism. There will also be benefits to self-esteem, goal setting, sense of achievement, a stronger physical and mental body and mind and all the other great things we already know.


Finding the right type of exercise to support the hormonal state your body is in, is important to ensure this added stress that exercise puts on your body has all of these positive benefits and doesn’t just provide more negative stress. For example, if you are feeling tired, overwhelmed and exhausted, pumping out a new personal best on your squat is probably not going to provide too much positive payback. It will more likely result in an increase in fatigue, tiredness and possible injury. In this case a Pilates style class would be more advantageous. Incorporate more energtic styles of training such as HIIT, weightlifting and boxing on days when you feel you have more energy, tension to release or need that pick me up and on days where your energy levels are lower, gentle low-intensity movement and good quality sleep are the key. It’s good practice to become comfortable with the fact that sometimes the lower level stress load that a casual walk places on your body can more beneficial than a 45-minute all-out spin session.