Does Working Out Release Cortisol?

Learn how cortisol affects your body and if working out releases cortisol.


Cortisol is a hormone that is produced and released in response to stress. It regulates a variety of bodily functions, such as glucose metabolism and the body’s natural response to inflammation. Many people are surprised to learn that physical activity—specifically aerobic exercise—can also trigger cortisol release. Research has shown that even moderate intensity workouts can result in increased concentrations of cortisol in the bloodstream. Understanding the implications and benefits of cortisol release when exercising is important for optimizing performance, recovery, and overall health.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone released by the body to regulate physiological and psychological functions. It has been linked to many physiological and psychological processes such as metabolism, stress, immunity, appetite, and more. Cortisol has also been linked to physical activity and exercise, and some studies have speculated that it can be released when we work out. Let’s explore this topic further.

What are the Effects of Cortisol?

Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands when the body is under physical or emotional stress. It is commonly referred to as “the fight-or-flight hormone” due to its role in the body’s reaction to danger.

At normal levels, cortisol can be beneficial — it helps with memory formation, metabolism regulation, and response to stress — but excessive release of cortisol can have negative effects such as increased appetite and craving for unhealthy foods, mood swings, reduced energy levels, weakened immune system, and disrupted sleep patterns. Chronic release of cortisol has been linked to various diseases such as hypertension and depression.

Cortisol levels also increase during exercise — as much as five times the resting level depending on intensity — and can influence how we perceive pain and stress. Many people find that they push their physical limits more easily while exercising because their body’s pain tolerance increases due to increased cortisol. This can be helpful in some scenarios but could present health risks when exercised without proper hydration or nutrition protection for muscles.

Ultimately, it is important to establish a healthy lifestyle that does not put your body under consistent or prolonged periods of physical/mental stress that would trigger cortisol production on an extended (chronic) basis. Furthermore, knowing when to push your limits during activity along with proper nutrition before and after workouts are key components in promoting safe exercise routines that provide favorable results without over-exertion or exhaustion leading to chronic fatigue subjects your body at risk for illness or injury related events.

Does Working Out Release Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone that is released from your adrenal glands during a workout. It is thought to have an impact on your body’s ability to regulate energy and perform activities. So, does working out actually release cortisol? In this article, we will take a look at the facts and the research to determine if working out does indeed lead to a rise in cortisol levels.

What Types of Exercise Increase Cortisol Levels?

Cortisol is a hormone often associated with stress. An increase in cortisol levels can indicate that your body is under physical or mental stress and it can have a negative impact on your well-being. Research has found that certain types of exercise, particularly extreme or intense forms, can increase cortisol levels.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one type of exercise known to trigger the release of cortisol. This form of exercise involves short bursts of strenuous activity interspersed with periods of rest or low-intensity activities. Studies have shown that HIIT increases cortisol levels acutely during and immediately following a workout session, while lower intensity exercises like endurance running do not produce this result.

Another type of exercise associated with higher cortisol levels is resistance training such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises. Studies show that moderate to high volume strength activities raise cortisol levels even more than HIIT does and these effects can last for several hours post-workout. Researchers attribute this increase to the fact that these exercises put tremendous strain on the muscles which leads to muscle soreness and fatigue, both factors that are known to increase stress hormone production.

The long-term effects of working out in relation to cortisol level regulation are still unknown but there is evidence that regular consistent exercise over time helps reduce overall stress levels which in turn keeps cortisol levels at healthy amounts in the body. Therefore, it’s important to remember that although some workouts may bring about an acute rise in your body’s cortisol concentration, regular activity over time may help balance hormones and could eventually result in lasting calmness and positive mental health benefits as well as physical ones!

What Types of Exercise Decrease Cortisol Levels?

For those looking to reduce cortisol levels for improved health and wellness, the type of exercise selected is very important. High-intensity exercise has been linked to higher cortisol production, while moderate-intensity aerobic workouts of around 30 minutes engage the hypothalamic-pituitary axis in just the right way. This releases endorphins as an alternative to cortisol and allows endorphins to decrease stress.

In addition to aerobic exercise, yoga and meditation are especially beneficial because they include not only physical activity but also help you develop awareness of breathing patterns and relaxation techniques that can lower overall levels of stress and cortisol. They can also help reduce anxiety, which generates or creates stress over time and leads to high levels of cortisol release.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults get 2 1/2 hours a week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity for general benefits such as increased energy level, improved moods, better sleep quality and improved functioning for daily tasks. Additionally, aerobic exercise is found to be an important factor in decreasing cortisol levels as it helps activate your body’s natural relaxation response.

Tips to Reduce Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stressors. When cortisol levels are too high, it can affect many areas of your life, like your mental health, physical health, and sleep. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce cortisol levels. In this article, we’ll discuss the tips to help you reduce your cortisol levels.


Nutrition plays a key role in cortisol regulation, and the best foods to reduce cortisol levels are those that support blood sugar balance and stress reduction. A diet composed of whole foods with little to no processed or refined ingredients is encouraged. These meals should be high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, while moderate in healthy fats. Specifically, some recommended dietary approaches include:

-Consuming most of your daily carbohydrates from unprocessed plant-based sources, such as fresh vegetables and fruits.
-Choosing healthy fats from sources like fatty fish, nuts and seeds instead of saturated fats from fried foods or snacks.
-Maintaining adequate protein consumption by incorporating moderate amounts of quality proteins at each meal.
-Limiting caffeine consumption, as this can cause spikes in cortisol levels.
-Eating regular meals and snacks every 3 to 5 hours throughout the day to help regulate blood sugar levels.
Environmental changes such as improved sleep hygiene, time management strategies and social support networks can also have a positive impact on cortisol levels and overall wellbeing.

Stress Management

Stress is one of the most common causes of increased cortisol levels, and managing stress is key to reducing cortisol. There are many ways to effectively manage your stress levels, but here are a few simple tips:

– Get adequate sleep – Sleep deprivation can increase cortisol production and hinder the ability of your body to recover from physical or emotional stress. Try to get at least 7–8 hours of sleep every night.
– Exercise regularly – Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce cortisol levels over time. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day, including both cardio and strength training exercises.
– Practice relaxation techniques – Mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and tai chi have all been shown to significantly reduce cortisol production in individuals with high stress levels.
– Take a break from stimulants – Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can increase your cortisol levels by increasing the amount of adrenaline released into the bloodstream; this puts additional strain on your body’s stress response system. Try taking a break from caffeine and limit nicotine intake as well.
– Reduce sugar intake – Consuming high amounts of sugar can raise your insulin levels which can then cause an increase in cortisol production. Consider cutting back on sweets for a few weeks and see how you feel afterwards.


Sleep is one of the most important factors in managing cortisol levels. Aim to get seven to nine hours of restful sleep every night. This amount may vary slightly depending on age and lifestyle. Getting enough quality sleep can help reduce the amount of stress hormones circulating in the body.

Create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine that includes activities like taking a hot shower, reading an enjoyable book or engaging in calming breathing exercises. Avoid stimulating activities such as watching television or using your smartphone close to bedtime, as they can prevent your mind and body from relaxing into a restorative state. Making changes to your sleep environment, such as installing blackout curtains, or using aromatherapy oils, may also reduce cortisol levels before bed time.


After much research and consideration, it can be concluded that working out does not necessarily cause cortisol release. Excessive amounts of physical activity may lead to an elevated level of cortisol in the body, which can be an indicator of stress and other health issues. However, moderate amounts of exercise done on a regular basis are capable of having the opposite effect. Regular physical activity has been linked to boosting mood and decreasing cortisol levels. Additionally, exercising regularly also offers a variety of other health benefits such as improved cardiovascular fitness, weight management, improved sleep quality and reduced risk of certain chronic diseases. Therefore, individuals should strive for a balanced lifestyle that incorporates both regular physical activity as well as proper nutrition in order to support healthy levels of cortisol release.

Checkout this video:

Similar Posts