Why You May Need to Exercise Less | Chris Kresser
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Why You May Need to Exercise Less

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Exercise is a major component of a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits of regular physical activity are well established. When adopting a Paleo lifestyle, modifying your fitness routine to include more high intensity exercise can bring great benefits to energy, body composition, and overall fitness.

However, there are many people who take their physique and physical fitness to an extreme level, particularly in the Paleo community. Certain styles of exercise take the participant to a state of physical exhaustion on a regular basis, which may do more harm than good.

While a consistent, high intensity workout routine may provide some benefits for those people looking to lose body fat and increase their strength and fitness, there is a fine line between training hard and overtraining. While running fast and lifting heavy may be major components of an active Paleo lifestyle, engaging in these physically demanding activities too regularly or too intensely can contribute to many different symptoms of overtraining.

Overtraining goes beyond just excessive “chronic cardio” or too many hours spent at the gym. Certain high-intensity exercise routines may push the body’s stress response too far, leading to a cascade of biochemical responses that can cause serious damage to one’s health in both the short and long term.

While short, intense workouts can be great for inducing fat loss, increasing aerobic capacity, and reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, excessively intense exercise can cause a variety of health problems, especially for those dealing with other concurrent stressors such as autoimmune disease, gut dysbiosis, or adrenal fatigue.

Overtraining has been shown to affect blood levels of important neurotransmitters such as glutamine, dopamine and 5-HTP, which can lead to feelings of depression and chronic fatigue. The stress caused by intense, excessive exercise can negatively affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, possibly causing conditions such as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is known to cause depression, weight gain, and digestive disfunction along with a variety of other symptoms. As we know, high stress in general can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, and the stress caused by excessive, intense exercise is no exception.

Another major effect that extreme exercise has on our bodies is an immediate increase in cortisol, the hormone that is released when the body is under stress.

Heavy-resistance exercises are found to stimulate markedly acute cortisol responses, similar to those responses found in marathon running. Chronically high levels of cortisol can increase your risk for a variety of health issues, such as sleep disturbances, digestive issues, depression, weight gain, and memory impairment. Excess cortisol also encourages fat gain, particularly around the abdomen.

When a goal of exercise is to lose weight or improve energy, overtraining can clearly be a major barrier to achieving those goals.

Overtraining can also have harmful effects on the immune system. Research has shown that the cellular damage that occurs during overtraining can lead to nonspecific, general activation of the immune system, including changes in natural killer cell activity and the increased activation of peripheral blood lymphocytes. This hyperactivity of the immune system following intense overtraining can possibly even contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions.

This type of nonspecific immune response is associated with symptoms such as chronic fatigue, weight loss, decreased appetite, and sleep changes. Altered immune status is also known to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, and may be responsible for the hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction and hypothyroidism known to occur in overtrained athletes.

Mark Sisson talks about the different signs of overtraining, which may be more common in endurance training but is nonetheless possible in high intensity training as well.

Feeling ill or rundown, losing muscle mass, gaining fat, and constant exhaustion can all be signs of excessive exercise of any type. Not only is this counterproductive to most people’s fitness and health goals, but it is also a sign of sickness.

In the path to better health, any activity that makes you more fatigued and more prone to infection is definitely something to be avoided.

So does this mean you should quit CrossFit, or stop pushing towards your weightlifting goals? Not necessarily.

Here are a few techniques to avoid overtraining while still enjoying high intensity exercise:

  1. Reduce the frequency. While pushing yourself hard at the gym is not inherently problematic, doing it too often during the week is overtraining. High intensity, high stress exercise should be limited to two or three times a week, especially for those who are dealing with other health issues such as autoimmune conditions or digestive troubles. Compounding those stressors with extra stress from your exercise routine will not leave you healthier, and can easily cause you to become more sick.
  2. Get adequate rest. I’ve written before about how important sleep quality is for health. Not only is taking breaks from exercise important, but getting adequate sleep to allow recovery from intense exercise is vital to avoiding the overtraining syndrome. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, particularly on the days you train. Interestingly, one symptom of overtraining is disturbance of sleep, so if you’re feeling restless and having trouble sleeping through the night, you may want to reconsider the intensity of your training schedule.
  3. Mix it up. While high intensity exercise may be ideal for losing body fat and improving lean muscle mass, we know that high levels of cortisol can cause the body to hold onto fat. For this reason, you may consider trying a type of exercise that can help modulate your cortisol levels. Some may knock yoga as being too easy to affect weight loss, but regular yoga practice is shown to reduce cortisol levels, which may help in reaching your weight and fitness goals. Instead of doing a fourth day of CrossFit, try doing a yoga class instead. You may find that this stress reducing exercise helps you recover more quickly from your more intense exercise schedule.
  4. Eat more carbohydrates. While cutting down carbohydrate consumption is often seen as the best way to decrease body fat, a combination of overtraining and low-carb eating can actually raise cortisol significantly and negatively impact immune function. There is also a possibility that very low carbohydrate (VLC) diets suppress thyroid function, a debate thoroughly discussed by Paul Jaminet on his blog. So if you’re regularly doing high intensity training and want to avoid symptoms of overtraining stress, don’t skimp on the carbs!
High intensity exercise can be a great way to improve body composition and enhance your general health, if done the right way.  As with all components of our lifestyle changes, the key is moderation and listening to your body.

If you choose to participate in these high intensity training programs, always use your best judgment and don’t let coaches or fellow athletes push you past your comfort zone.

Now, I’d like to hear your experiences with different exercise programs – did your health improve or suffer after increasing the intensity of your training? Have you been able to find a balance between intensity and adequate recovery?

356 Comments

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  1. Wow!How interesting!I recently changed my exercise program and feeling A LOT WORSE for it.
    I have been doing high intensity strength training for 4 days a week and 3 days a week power strength yoga and I feel exhausted and burst out in loads more spots than usual-even tho I’m eating super healthy and clean.
    And I have put on weight!???And my digestion has gone to pots!
    Before that I would cycle leisurely to work and back with many hills on the road and do gentle yoga-and lots of walks-which did do me a lot more good!
    I guess the stress this new exercise & health regime is creating is causing my cortisol levels to jump up to the roof.I did have sleeping difficulty too when I first started (have been doing it for 6.5 weeks now) but now am just so exhausted that I’m sleeping like a log and crave constantly more sleep.-maybe time to return to cycling and cut down on the days of intensity training!

  2. I came here mainly because I wanted to find the relationship between cortisol, stress and weight loss. I went through a divorce a few years ago that hit me pretty hard mentally. My appetite dropped to a bare minimum, and I would wake up a few times every night because my heart was racing 300 mph. One month later, I had lost close to 40 Lbs (at least 90% fat) without having done any exercise whatsoever. (some of my friends have had the pretty much the same experience with their divorces).

    Now, according to several articles about the topic, my cortisol levels should have been through the roof during that period due to the intense stress I was experiencing, basically preventing me from losing all of that weight? I have a hunch that my adrenaline was probably so high that it canceled out the negative effects of cortisol? Adrenaline does two things; it burns fat faster than cardio and it reduses appetite. I for one, would like to see more comprehensive research regarding these hormones, and how they react with one another?

    • Hi everyone,
      I hope someone can help here. I am 26 years old and was diagnosed with SLE at the age of 14. By the age of 16 doctors managed to push my SLE back. That year I broke up with my boyfriend, lost 25 pounds and became anorexic. I struggled with anorexia for 8 years but managed to get back to normal eating when moved countries. Everything was perfect for two years, I ate whatever I wanted and exercised 3 times a week. Then I took on a very stressful job, started binge eating gained around 20 pounds and so started exercising daily to lose weight ( 3 hours sessions every day: riding my bike for an hour, jogging for an hour and finally around 9 pm hitting the gym for an hour ).now as I look back this was just to turn my attention away from my job and the stress at work. I did this for a year or more and messed up my regular 9 hour sleeps. I woke up every night around three times and ate as much as I could. This was again to aid stress at work and I guess my subconscious wanted to treat my body as I wasn’t treated well at work. At the same time doctors diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, and advised I should exercise more?!! Every day I would have so much pain in my muscles that I had to take painkillers to cure it. Doctors gave me antidepressants to cure my sleeps. Nothing helped. Had no sleep for a year and chronic muscle pain every day and night until I stopped going to the gym. And that’s where I am now. My lupus is dormant, I eat well( still feel anxious about it but I think that’s not something I can fix), have no muscle pain and sleep well. However I had to stop every sort of exercise ( had to even give up cycling to work) because as soon as I do a little exercise my muscle pain comes back. I can live without workouts( I never thought I get to this level, I was obsessed with going to the gym daily), the trouble is that I keep gaining weight no matter what I eat. Is there anyone who has similar experience to mine? I just need to know how to keep my weight at a healthy level. The problem is because of eating very little( a mini pot of yoghurt every day) during my years of anorexia my body is used to not getting any calories and now I guess it just stores everything. Any advice is much appreciated.

      • I’m a 37 M, my lifestyle allows me a lot of free time so I am very active, 6 days a week I double up on workouts activities. Regular stretching, pilates is absolutely necessary for me but also replacing my calories with nutritious meals, when your’e as active as you are it is really important to eat and eat a lot as a calorie restricted diet will cause injury too.
        There’s also a lot of research that NSAIDs like ibuprofen although alleviate pain they impact gains and possible in some cases atrophy muscles so be careful if your taking NSAIDs for long periods of time.
        Your muscle response is either psychological, DOMS from not working out or you have poor musculoskeletal. As I get older I need to stretch more than ever, you should be stretching out those angry muscles and definitely look into pilates I swear by it.

        • Thank you for your comment J.
          I will definitely give pilates a go. I wish I had more free time so I could give appropriate amount of rest to my body! Stay well! Chrissy K

      • I was also diagnosed with lupus when I was 15. I was in an abusive marriage @ 19 and started aerobics and light weights to help deal with the stress and was 103 pounds from 19 – 33 when I hired a trainer and began lifting heavy. He just kept adding weight over a long period of time until I became very strong and was pushing a LOT of weight, which over a period of years created a LOT of muscle. I’m only 5′ so that much muscle without fat is great, but then I got sick. I found out what they do to animals on factory farms and the lupus kicked in. I was literally bed-ridden for 6 months. I then started green juicing and it all seemed to turn around. Then I ended up back in bed for another 5 months, then okay for a bit then back in bed another 6 months. I’ve been in bed over 1 1/2 yrs in the past 3 years. It’s hardest on me mentally. I feel worthless. I buy everything organic and drink green juices like crazy – but STILL I cannot lose weight… until now.

        I was talking to my daughter and she mentioned Whole 30. I have now combined Whole 30 with a Ketogenic lifestyle change. I cut out all dairy, grain, sugar, nuts, legumes, almost all fruit and all alcohol. I have read a ton of information (habit) and found that although I eat organic everything… almost everything I was eating was being converted into some sort of sugar/glucose. Even the green juices. These were incredible revelations to me. I don’t care for candy, but love fruit so ate a lot of it. Turns out, that’s bad too. If our body has a constant source of sugar being put into it, it CANNOT burn fat. If we remove those sources (mostly carbs in my case), our body MUST turn to the fat reserves. This new eating plan also increases fat consumption. I began my new eating habits on Monday July 25 & though I was not suppose to weigh myself for 30 days… I weighed exactly 6 pounds LESS in 6 days. I also feel better than I have for a long long time.

        Reading your post reminded me a lot of what I have been going thru so I wanted to tell you what is actually helping me, when I honestly didn’t think there was anything that would make a difference. I strongly recommend looking at sources of information on Ketogenics, Whole 30 & Paleo lifestyles. Once I found out that all the ‘good’ foods I was eating really wasn’t good – that’s when it started changing. And seriously, I’ve tried everything and until now, NOTHING has helped me lose the weight I have gained being sick. I finally have hope and am losing 1 pound a day while eating real foods and not being hungry at all.

        I sincerely wish you the very very best.

        • Thank you for sharing your story Liz. I am glad you have managed to get through it. My lupus is dormant at the moment, however I have been extremely exhausted in the past three months which led to me quitting my job as I wasn’t able to coop with the workload. I truly believe that a lot depends on the food we eat. I have been experimenting with different types of diets and my muscle pain disappeared as soon as I quit sugar. Would you please tell me in detail what can you eat? I would love to try and follow your diet.
          Many thanks! Christina

  3. Hey Chris, this article is just what I was looking for. I have an autoimmune disease (colitis) and a few years ago I was a regular gym-goer. I’d frequently perform HIIT cardio and lift heavy weights (for my size, lol) but I’d usually leave the gym feeling nauseous and with a bad belly, so I traded in my gym membership for a yoga membership and ended up becoming a yoga instructor myself. Recently I’ve felt like I’ve lost some of my strength/muscle mass and of course my body has adjusted to a regular yoga practice so it’s not as challenging as it once was for me – so, I thought I might get back into the gym to not only tone overall but also improve my yoga practice. However, after visiting the gym twice this week I’ve had the same symptoms return, so does this mean that I should nix cardio altogether? Not lift heavy weights?? I’d like to gain more tone and strength but obviously not at the risk of my health. Any suggestions?

    • My limited google knowledge leads me to believe HIIT CARDIO will escalate your HR and that will cause your AI symptoms to surface. You need to resolve your AI issues. You should be able to weight lift alone to see muscle gains, you’ve seen the chicken legged top heavy guys at the gym. Excessive synthetic protein (soy, whey) are also known to cause GI issues so be cautious on the nutrition front as well.

  4. I started doing crossfit in 2014 and not long after that I gained 10 lbs (no, it wasn’t muscle). At the end of 2015, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Between diagnosis and surgery (3 months), I gained another 20 lbs. my surgery was 4 months ago, I still do crossfit about 4 times per week and I eat pretty healthy. I have only lost 8 lbs in those 4 months.
    Someone that lives without a thyroid like me recommended this article. She cited the article when saying HIIT is not a good idea when you live without a thyroid.
    What I get from your article is that excessive training, or overtraining, is not a good idea for anyone.
    Do you believe crossfit, without overtraining, is detrimental for those living without a thyroid?

  5. I was recently diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism. I was not put on medication, but have recently started putting on weight no matter what I do or eat. I work out 4 days a week, usually twice a day; cardio at noon and then weight training after work. I have always been conscious of what I eat so I’m confused on why I continue to gain weight. Reading this article also made me wonder if my work out routine is what brought on the hypo. I have not seen an endo, but will check into that. Any thoughts on how I should move forward with exercise? I did go to a health food store and bought an all natural thyroid pill to see if that would help. I am trying to keep a journal of the day, although not really tracking food. Any thoughts or ideas would be much appreciated.

    • Marsha, some doctors still use old range for thyroid 🙁 I’ve been in your position before. Good doctor will treat you when your levels of TSH above 3. Some of them automatically will put you on synthetic thyroid medication that has only T4 and doesn’t do much difference for quite a few people as your body have to convert T4 in T3. You will not lose weight unless you have a proper thyroid balance, my doctor gave me an article about not to use any thyroid supplements. .. I think you just need to find a really good doctor.Good luck!

      • Marsha,

        Any updates? I’m in the same boat as you and trying to figure out the best path forward. I have a great naturopath and am on supplements, but would love to hear other advice.

        Thanks!

  6. Frankly, I feel this emphasis on exercise is blown way out of proportion. Ninety percent, if not more of my weight control is through diet. Exercise never fails to bring my weight up, no it’s not muscle density either. It probably has to do with increased cortisol due to the stress of working out. Exercise also makes my sugar cravings go through the roof. People say they work out to relieve stress? Well I don’t know about you but pounding the pavement or treadmill for 45 min or lifting weights IS stressful to the body, it certainly is not relaxing. Everyone is different, but my body just does not need it, in fact it just aggravates my body more and actually makes me crave more food. I am able to maintain healthy blood pressure ,cholesterol and weight without beating myself up at the gym. Stop eating so much, adopt a vegan or vegetarian dies and you will not need the gym.

    • Frank, if you take a basic anatomy and physiology class, you’d know how EVERY “body” NEEDS to move and exercise. If you are unable to or feel it’s too much, it sounds like you have chronic fatigue, or adrenal fatigue or maybe another autoimmune affecting the joints like RA or anxiety if it seems too much. Calming herbs or lavender, chamomile can help anxiety. I’m dealing with CFS and autoimmune. But, i also know that LYMPH becomes stagnant & sludge if we don’t move. BLOOD circulation returned to the heart to get re-oxygenenated must be moved by Muscle CONTRACTION by moving and exercising. We become blood deficient and weak return blood if we don’t. ALSO, exercising helps MOVE LYMPH — our VITAL circulation system above the blood vessels. It houses our IMMUNE system, but also works as our Sewer system, by killing microbes and it’s where metabolic wastes and pesticides & herbicides, like ROUNDUP Accumulation end up. Blood clots form easier when we don’t move. Its’ why they say get up and walk, during long plane/car rides. It needs to be flushed just like a toilet does or it backs up and can cause disease anywhere in the body, because we have lymph nodes all over the body. Stretching, rebounder, walking and other activities can help move lymph too. Vegan and Vegetarian is not for everyone. Some people have genetic blood condition Pyroluria and MUST avoid grains (very difficult on a vegan diet), or they get severely depleted in certain nutrients, like I am now treating my imbalance.. Also we need adequate PROTEIN to help our body make more critical lymphocytes. Some people need other nutrients only found in meat. Whatever works for you, go for it. Soy = 90% GMO and toxic sprayed ith Round up today. and some people cannot eat legumes either. Get YOUR genes tested at 23andme.com and eat for your own genes. Per Livestrong.com, Women need 46 gm protein, Men need 56 protein daily, and more per activity. Humans were not designed to be stagnant. When i grew up in 1980s, everyone exercised & rarely were overweight. Now, majority is overweight & sick society. If we don’t move, our blood & lymph become DIRTY & Oxygen deficient. Let’s MOVE.

      • I don’t think he said you shouldn’t move. I think he said you shouldn’t hit the gym so hard.

  7. Everyone has valid points to make. Stressors, of any kind, contribute to anxiety. In my case, a lifetime of built up exercise overtraining, treating my body abysmally through trying every diet in the 90s and 00s, living a childhood of extreme family violence has all taken its toll. I feel violently ill at any indication of stress. As a result, I’ve eased right back on weight lifting to learn to enjoy it and not use it as a form of self flagellation.

  8. I’ve been teaching spinning (14 yrs), les mills rpm (6 mo), and train for tri’s. 3 years ago I started gaining weight. First endocrinologist said , ” eat less, work out more”. Spring 2015 fought that there was something wrong w me after a50# weight gain in a very short period of time. Diagnosed with Cushings disease after finding benign tumor on pituitary gland that is secreting high levels of acth. Getting this bugger removed Jan 2016. I have to wonder if my 5 am spin classes 2-3 times a week may have contributed some. A little nervous after recovery if I should continue with it. As much as yoga is so good and challenging….I’m bored! Thoughts?

  9. I have a rare adrenal condition condition known as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. The quick definition is I do not produce adrenocorticosteroids naturally in my body. I never have and, pending Divine Intervention, never will. I take a small steroid supplement once a day to put on par with the rest of average humanity. However, I am a highly active individual. I love Olympic weightlifting, hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, and being outdoors in general. When it comes to 10-15 minute metcons, though, I bite the dust. Hard. I typically cannot finish the workouts in the alloyed time, no matter how many times I attempt the workouts and I find myself moderately depressed for the next 25-36 hours (and it’s not because I “failed a workout”). I was wondering if anyone had any input as to why metcons are so brutal for me, why I am so depressed for so long afterwards, and if there is anything that can be done about it. Any input would be appreciated.

  10. I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidisum a year ago. I walk everyday watch my caloric intake keep a food journal and cannot lose any weight. I am taking levothyroxine and Cytomel. The weight just keeps piling on no matter what I do. My sleep is not good I feel sluggish and ashamed, I bet people think I just sit around and eat all day which I don’t. I have tried following the weight watchers program but wasn’t losing any weight so why pay for something that is not working. I have heard reduce carbs that didn’t help. I take brisk walks but that is about all key body can tolerate I feel worn out every day have no energy. I have been to see my dr numerous times and to no avail. Any ne have any advice? Can cortisol be to blame?

    • My advice: Go see a different Doctor; specifically and endocrinologist. And if you are seeing on, try a different one. Obviously your problem is not being addressed properly.

      • You might also want to be checked for Hashimoto. 80% of people who have hypothyroidism actually have an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto. A good book to read about this is “Why do I still have thyroid symptoms? by Dr Datis kharrazian

    • Hi Cyndy,

      I am sure you must get a lot of advice, but my thoughts are not just about the amount of calories you are ingesting daily, but the food choices you are making. Gluten is a often a culprit in hypothyroidism, take a Lugol’s iodine as prescribed on the bottle, and see an endocrinologist (if you haven’t already seen one) to ensure you don’t have any growths on any of your glands which may be contributing to the hormonal imbalance. Also read up on vitamins and minerals such as Selenium and Zinc which also support the thyroid. But most importantly TRY to get 7-8 hours of sleep – take melatonin an hour before to induce sleepiness, and be DISCIPLINED about your sleep. It’s the #1 culprit for fat retentions when calorie over-consumption is not the cause. I had hypothyroidism it was iodine and proper daily sleep that ended it. But if I start getting lax on my sleep hygiene, and nothing else, my weight mysteriously goes back up. Food for thought…. 🙂 Good luck!

    • It’s important to address all issues with your adrenals before treating your thyroid issues. If you do not address them first your thyroid treatment will not be effective. There is plenty of info explaining this on the internet. I agree that you should see an endo…a lot of GP’s are clueless about thyroid and take a one size fits all approach to treatment. Good luck!

  11. My name is Scott Marshall, and over the past 6 years of training I have now realised that exercise is the root cause of my sleeping issues, whether it’s playing sport at a high intensity, football, squash or heavy weight resistance training, my sleep is virtually non existent, feeling ‘hungover’ in the morning is the best way to describe it. I initially stripped back everything trying to understand what was going on, caffeine, smoking, high protein diet, had prostate checked, hormones checked but nothing, doctors just fobbed me off. Only when I stopped going to the gym did the problem stop! I stopped going to the gym for 7 months, but being a very keen sportsman & gym goer I tired a series of tests….gym once a week, the problems came flooding back…and they are very consistent every single time….if I went to the gym, I would struggle to sleep often taking up to 90 mins to fall asleep, have 2-3 hours of deep sleep, wake to urinate, then roll around for the remainder of the night, most of the time being already conscious before the alarm goes off in the morning for work. This would also be the same cycle for the very next night, with my sleep returning to normal the 3rd night after going to the gym! Please help as I am seriously at my wits end…I just can’t handle the two days after going to the gym! I just don’t understand what biological reaction high intensity is having on my body. I know it is far from normal…I keep thinking that if I could understand what is going on in my body, then I might be able to do something about it! I am a 31 year old male, very slim & eat extremely healthy! Any advice would be most welcome! Thank you

    KR
    Scott

    • Maybe go during the day, morning or afternoon. I worked out at night for about 15 years and being in my mid-30’s now, my hormone levels are majorly messed up. Lucky you are fine and bounce back so quickly

    • Scott, I experienced the exact same thing when in my 30’s from too much volume and intensity of training. I’m currently 60 and fortunately the problem has been corrected. I found that, for me, going to failure must be used judiciously. If you read enough about exercise intensity and the central nervous system you will eventually find that it is possible to become very seriously overtrained, to the degree you describe. If overtraining is taken too deeply, recovery can take years. So be careful. I’d suspect this may be the problem. It certainly was for me. It was necessary to refrain completely from training for something like two years (I also had a high stress job at the time) before I could start with even light weight training again. Even then it was touch and go for some time after. I can now train with high intensity, but stay very tuned in to the signs of overtraining. I also notice that increased protein intake seems to help some, but controlling volume of training seems to have greatest impact. Incidentally, I could find no doctors or physical trainers who understood my problem. One even suggested that it must be “in my head” as everyone knows that exercise helps people sleep.

      • Hi Mark
        Thank you so much for sharing. I hope you see this. I have been struggling with sleep and hormonal issues for 10 years. I finally figured out that exercise was disrupting my sleep. It’s been z year dive I’ve barely trained though I am sleeping better I’ve put on weight. Can you share a bit how you recovered as I could really use all the tips or any contacts you can provide.
        Thanks
        Kim

        • Hi Kim, I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to return to sleeping. Life is a bugger when the Z’s aren’t cooperating. I’m not sure I know anything that’s a real tip, but I’ll try to outline my recovery for you. It took me a long long time, though I don’t think it needed to. I just couldn’t find info on it at the time. Nor find doctors or reading material on the subject. Today, doctors specializing in hormonal systems are available and might be a best direction. I don’t know…I’ve never seen one. Also, it may be important to know that my preferred form of exercise was most often weight training, but I think intensity of effort was the key stumbling block for me. Any intense exercise (even a game of volleyball) would mess me up. So in my recovery, I think my decision to stop doing intense exercise until I recouped was a first step. From there, I had to learn to listen to what my body was telling me. I couldn’t wait until I wasn’t sleeping to cut back. If I did, I’d regress much too far. I needed to learn and listen to the more subtle signals my body sent me. Holler back if that’s confusing. My realization that there were more stressors in my life than exercise was probably next. At first I wouldn’t accept that my job, kids, divorce etc. had anything to do with exercise performance and recovery. Realizing it’s importance was a key. Understanding that my response to exercise was not what some specialist writes in a magazine was a big one. That helped take off pressure to perform to other’s notions of acceptable performance. (That’s probably a typical male issue. lol!). (This is also where the recognition that I trained with weights is important. Weightlifters (me) very often follow a routine created by others that has been proven to work. Understanding that I didn’t have to follow one was important). Last was probably my rejection of the notion that exercise permitted dietary carelessness. Deciding that a healthy diet would improve recovery helped a good deal. I do miss my daily chocolate fix though. I do not take any fancy supplements nor hormone therapy. I do take a daily vitamin, as well as extra D and Zinc. I supplement with protein occasionally. In essence, recovery was a process of internal discovery versus one of trying to meet what I or others “thought” I should be able to do. It took years of back and forth and was often screwed up by something as simple as repeated snowfalls causing multiple days of driveway shoveling. But gradually things improved. Had I reduced intensity and/or frequency as well as dealing with outside stressors earlier, I’d have probably recovered faster. But who knew? Anyway, I hope this provides something of value to you. All the Best!

          • Hi Mark, Thanks for sharing, your story resonates so much with mine. From the intensity, to the work stress to the stressors in my life etc.
            I really appreciate the feedback.
            it gives me hope to know that you recovered. I’m at the point where I’m beginning to see where the stress brings me into sever crisis and I have to nurture myself back to functioning, next steps are to stop it before I derail and find a level of exercise that works for me. I have not yet found this. For so long I struggled to keep what I was doing. Running, when my body wouldn’t allow me to run anymore, I Lifted and kept pushing not knowing i was doing damage, and climbing and a whole bunch of high intensity. Until I stopped and did nothing which does not help either.
            I think my next step is to try working out a low intensity i.e.; the MAF method (which I just discovered this week) keeping my heart rate significantly lower to not put stress on my body and trigger stress hormone production (basically listening to my body as you say), and accept where I am and work with that and also keep learning to set boundaries with other stressors.
            There are some doctors out there yes, but I have yet to find someone I could hire, like a coach or trainer to really support me and hold me accountable to full recovery. This, ideally is what I would like to find.
            Thank you so much for the inspiration.

            • Kim, Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you found it helpful. While reading your response I thought of something that might be of value to you and/or others on the site. To this day, I still like to workout hard. Sometimes all the way to failure (though rarely). But I have an experience you might find interesting. A few months ago I had completed a periodized training routine that left me very close to being overtrained. So I took off a week and decided to back off and try a routine of daily lifting doing only one set of one repetition for seven exercises with weights that I could actually do 8 or 9 repetitions with. This routine was the ultimate in easy. I was only working at about 12% of my capacity (but doing it every day). It was actually more work changing the weights than it was to do the actual lifting. After one month when I tested my max lifts, all of them were higher than before. As much as 5%. I was amazed that so little exercise could cause such an improvement. I certainly learned a lesson there! So feel positive about performing exercise that doesn’t seem to be taxing you to any great degree. It might be that you’re improving anyway. Good luck with your journey. Mark

    • Mark, i’m 50 and i feel the same when i go to the gym and you have to remember you are not in your 20″s and 30’s anymore..Age plays a big difference in recovery speed which is slower when you get over 40…i was a gym rat for 31 yrs until my muscles start going into spasms and it took days to recover from it… I don’t go to gym for weights anymore i only do cross fit machines and treadmill and i feel much better and less fatigued and stressed out..I also had to wait out of the gym for 6 months to a year for full recovery …

    • Are you sure you’re eating enough and hydrating enough when you exercise? As a mid-30’s athlete, I discovered that exercise dramatically increases my need for calories and carbs, water, and certain minerals like magnesium. When I don’t get enough of those, I get broken and unrefreshing sleep, which sets off a cycle of under recovery, and if carried on long enough, over training. I sometimes have to force myself to eat and drink more to avoid the crash and burn. I also put a huge priority on my sleep, getting 8-10 hours a night and taking supplements that help facilitate recovery.

    • Son of a gun, you sound just like me. 30 years of age, have been lifting for a long time and mountain bike as well. I eat extremely well and clean. I have hashimotos. I do not sleep, its awful, terrible, feels like death is around the corner. I have yet to stop workouts but am beginning to think they might relate, what a bummer. After long mtb rides I don’t just feel tired, but sick, same with workouts, then not sleeping only makes it worse. Doctors are the worst, they look at me with googly eyes and shuffle me out the door. Endo’s are kind of LOL bad too, my endo gave me the book definition of hashimotos and sent me on my way, thanks pal. Any way I want answers, been tracking everything myself now.

    • Why so fixated on the gym for high intensity training? If you like being active, why not bring it down a notch and go for a bike ride outside with a friend, or join a racket club? I don’t mean to be trite, I just wonder about your other non-gym related options such as social sporting activities… such as a softball league etc. Perhaps your are bored and use the gym to busy yourself. I don’t know. What did people do before gyms came into existence, think about it and try something else that you might enjoy almost as much. Good luck.

    • Hi Scott,

      I suffer from the exact same thing. Was an avid runner, triathlete etc, but after a stress period in 2010 I am still not able to do hard exercise yet (and at times not even moderate, unfortunately). I am actually back home right now as I took a very hard MTB-ride Sunday – simply could not decline an old friend’s offer to take a ride. The result, I have not slept for two days straight.

      I know however the solutions at hand which helps me a lot on a daily basis:
      1. Yoga
      2. Meditation
      3. Regular sleeping pattern
      4. Healthy diet
      5. Not too much alcohol (as that also messes up with your adrenaline levels)
      6. Regular walking

      All of the above solutions, however, do not give a solution on how to get back into shape (which is what we both wish to get to).

      The trick is certainly to very slowly and gradually step up exercise from very easy to moderate and then step it up a level at a time over e.g. a 6 months period. However, I’ve found that it’s a very thin line and very hard to follow even though you try to do it in a very disciplined manner.

      I’ve come to realise that the easiest solution would probably be to measure cortisol levels after exercise and even better, during exercise, to make sure that you can stop in time so as to be sure that your body can manage to get the cortisol/adrenaline levels down again, before sleeping.

      The key question is, however, is there a device which quickly and accurately can measure cortisol/adrenaline levels daily without too much hassle?

      Anyone?

      Best,
      Mads

  12. I am 53 years old. I began ramping up my exercise routine about three months ago. Prior to that, I would go to the gym three times a week and would do a moderate workout. 60 min aerobics and once or twice a week I would add weights. The past three months I have been at the gym 4-5 times per week. I have always struggled with my weight and figured “its now or never”. Currently I do 90 min of aerobics 4-5 x per week, often combined with weight training. So, basically I am at the gym about 2.5 hours each visit. Just back from vacation and yes there were days of bad eating, but I went to the gym 9 days out of 10. Returning to work tomorrow. Tried some clothes on to get ready for the am and I can just about button the pants. They are also tight in the hip and thigh area!!!! Help!!!! It is like my body shifted over the past month. I have always carried my extra weight in my waist, but it seems worse. Wondering if cortisol is to high. Thoughts? Thank You

  13. Hi!

    I see I need to reduce exercise. Right now I am doing the 3 major lifts in weights. Squats, OHP/bench, and deadlift 3 times per week. Should I reduce to 2? Or better do 1 lift a day? Any tips or advice is welcome 🙂

    • Have you increased your calorie, carb, water intake, protien, and vitamin & mineral intake? If you haven’t, you probably need to. Recovery comes down to food, water, nutrients, and sleep. When you exercise you often need more of all of these. As an older athlete myself, I find I need to force myself to drink more water and eat more, specifically carbs and proteins. I also have to take vitamins and supplements to help me recover. I also have to sleep 8-10 hours a night. My body is very sensitive so I have to be very vigilant. Try increasing your healthy foods, water intake, and sleep, and also get yourself some supements

  14. I used to run marathons and ultras – up to the 100 mile Western States. I later spent some time in gyms, trying to repair the cortisol-induced damage to my muscle mass. More recently, I’ve begun to question the entire lore of exercising. It seems that we’ve simply been handed “truths” by the exercise and diet industries and forced to swallow them. I’m now doing my own research into Less is More and If Every Instinct You’ve Had Has Been Wrong… Here are some of my findings.

    1. “Fit” means “capable”. Fit for Ironman, say, means capable of completing one in a given time. Such “fitness” has no practical or physiological use in any normal life area. “Fitness” at the high end won’t help a normal person to live normal life better or more efficiently. Cardiovascular fitness is pointless, outside of what you are artificially training for.

    2. All types of stress produce cortisol. Cortisol is physiological enemy number one, and should be kept to a minimum. That should be everyone’s PRIORITY. You don’t have to feel “stressed” in order to be producing cortisol. Dieting is a major stressor – never do it. “Exercise” is a major stressor – never do it. Boredom is a stressor. Watching too much TV is a stressor. Working at something you don’t like is a stressor. Waiting is a stressor. Etc.

    Instead, gradually cut out harmful diet items that you don’t want to consume. Instead, purposely move and use your body somewhat intensely in less than 30 sec periods, followed by lots of rest, throughout each day. Since you need muscle mass, do bodyweight strength training, following a Grease the Groove non-regimen. Bottom line: “Diet and exercise having no stress as THE priority”. So, for example, cut out soda entirely and do a 70% max set of push ups, with a smile on your face, every so often throughout the day. And walk places, with a smile on your face. Who wants to be cross fit?

    3. 10 means nothing. 26.2 means nothing. 3 x means nothing. 40 mins means nothing. 20 laps means nothing. All of that has been invented by the various “fitness” industries to appeal to your love of numbers and control. Get rid of your watch. Get rid of your tape measure. Get rid of your heart monitor. Etc. Move when staying still is getting old (listen for the ants in your pants – shake them out with a few pull ups or bodyweight squats – done with a smile on your face and your tongue lolling out). Stop moving when moving doesn’t continue of its own volition. That is, if you no longer feel like moving for the sake of feeling the movement, stop moving. Also, move in the clothes and shoes you happen to have on, wherever you are.

    4. Eat what you LIKE. Promise yourself that you’ll always eat, and drink, whatever you like. Consumption is anti-stress. Once you lower the stress, the cravings will subside somewhat. Don’t stress your body with huge meals, or meals on the run. Graze. Use a small plate. Promise yourself more soon.

    5. Build a muscle mass (not bulk) and a neuromuscularly awake system to provide a metabolism that can burn up what you’ve consumed. Do it gradually and gently, however. It’s a journey, not a goal. You can build muscle mass on a few gentle sets of push ups, spaced throughout a day. Yes, that other “performance” stuff was all lies.

    6. In everything you do, cooperate with yourself, don’t compete. Competition is stressful.

    7. Did I mention reducing all stress and cortisol should be your life priority?

    • Your comment so resonated with me today. I’m a natural athlete. Competitive my nature. Been paleo and exercising daily for about 2.5 years. I’m as lean as I could possibly be but my hormones are wrecked, my adrenals are wrecked and my adult acne is crazy from the hormonal disruption. I keep saying “but I”m not stressed”! You’ve inspired me to put up the running shoes for awhile. Take off the fitness tracker for a while and start healing my body. Thank you!

    • On the whole this is a nice positive answer, with some blind ignorance thrown in.
      But then there is other more dangerous pseudoscience in comments sections like above.
      Eat what you like is something no one who is serious about training, fitness and heath could agree with, whether a nutritional expert or naturopath. Maybe you mean eat what you like within a set of healthy food? Or for you is a diet of pure GMO processed wheat, corn and soy a low stressor because if we crave these poisons, they must be good?
      I doubt you agree with this. And it seems that in some areas the variation in people is large. The pseudoathletes who say eat more carbs, perhaps dont know what they are talking about…do inuits have the option to eat more carbs? Did any native stone age people in winter? No, because carbs are irrelevant or toxic. People are correct that to minimise the cortisol is key, but many clearly dont realise what other problems raise cortisol – all electromagnetic pollution from mobile phones, towers and wifi. Heavy metals are perhaps the most destructive toxin to sport recovery, closely followed by chronic infection due to root canals and such. Probably all fillings of all sorts are infected at most of the time. Try getting a dentist to look or admit this and replace fillings.
      Then there is the deficiency no one mentions and perhaps most cant comprehend. In my deep research into nutrition I had to read veterinarian theses from Münich because for some reason the academics there have a special interest in ultra rare elements in biology and keep asking their students to look into it. Most of the references are from Chinese researchers. The implication is that we do need f-block metals for some essential and other optimal functioning. You wont here this from your government diet advice or even your online guru. Which foods have what elements? Well if I was American I might say pay to consult with me hundreds of dollars, but in reality much of it is a lottery and you get the minerals by eating the variety of food, unfortunately many of which would be organ meat and seafood, those most likely to be polluted with toxic metals and organic residues.
      If you want to discus more contact me, I wont write so much as this discussion might have closed long ago.

  15. I am 41 male and have always excerised, play football, gym, cycling etc. After the London olympics I upped my cycling and started doing 100 mile sportives and time trials. I did a huge amount of training. This was whilst going through extremely stressful time at work and having a new baby boy. After 2 years of this and some family issues I developed major insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks and depression. I wanted to commit suicide most days. I went to the doctors and he said I was stressed, gave me sleeping tablets and put me into counselling. The sleeping tablets made things much worse and counselling did nothing. I always had a thought the excercise may be the cause so in the end gave it all up a month ago. Since then, in a short amount of time I am feeling much better, sleeping better, not having panic attacks and life is feeling good. I have started playing golf which means I have not totally given up sport and gives me something to focus on. Just wanted to pass this on incase anyone else is having the same issues in did.

    • When you experienced insomnia did you happen to feel completely out of it 24/7 as if you had one to many beers or felt spaced out? I developed insomnia after a bout of Life stress (financial, school, work, personal life) and to top it off before my body hit a wall I had changed up my workout program from my normal 5 day a week bro split (legs, chest,back, off, shoulders, arms, off, repeat) that my body was accustomed to – to 3 days a week( mon off wed off thurs off off repeat ) HIGH intensity output strength training that had me in the gym anywhere from 2-3 hours focusing on the 5 big lifts ( deadlift, overhead press, bench, heavy rows, and leg press for 5 heavy sets of 5). Which my body was previously not used to. Throughout my time on this program I felt my body becoming exhausted after each session and i always felt tired but i kept going workout after workout because in my mind i though i could push through it and keep making progress. Anyway, on that last workout i was doing deadlifts and i pulled a back muscle (which has recovered now) that made me stop and go home. But that day seriously felt like “damn this is way too much for my body” and the next day i woke up feeling super hot, not with a fever or anything but warm and out of it like if i was hungover. I thought i was coming down with a flu so i took a week off and nothing resolved… i had multiple blood tests etc and they say its all in my head and that i’m fine. I believe i took 3 weeks off training and everything still felt the same. but the major trend was that i was not sleeping well. I don’t and haven’t since got deep restorative sleep and wake up frequently at night. I feel super fatigued and tired all day and feel like im high 24/7, with under eye bags and my face looks pale. (this never happened when i would get deep sleep). I returned to workout after the 3 weeks that didn’t fix my “supposed over training” issue because i didn’t want to lose my muscle gains. So fourth months later which is now 7/27/2016 and i still feel the same and can’t sleep well. I workout 5 days a week but nothing crazy and i’m still growing day by day and people say i’m looking bigger and my weight hasn’t went up or down, although i find it hard to lose weight and my muscle aren’t as full as they once were. I have no pain what-so-ever when i workout or during the day and my lifts have not plateau’d. Wired right? I thought someone mentioned that over training you would either decrease in strength and not be building muscle. In my case I go to the gym to try and stay healthy and keep muscle on my frame. I’m 25 weight 205 lbs and Male. Any suggestions? can over training cause insomnia with still getting stronger and putting on muscle ? Should I quit working out for a few months to see what happens? I feel like this insomnia will kill me soon and its creating depression and i constantly feel like i’m running on adrenaline “the on edge” feeling. thanks.

  16. Thanks for the info. I’m wondering if I need to cut back on running.
    This is really hard for me to consider because I’ve been a big runner since I was in elementary school. I’ve never really taken a break from it, training competitively ever since. The last few years I’ve been running marathons, including an ultra. I’m currently on an Air Force MAJCOM team for the Air Force half marathon in September but in the last year have developed some health issues which I believe are rooted in years of stress. I went to the Air Force Academy where I was constantly stressed for four years while training for marathons and now have many symptoms of adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, estrogen dominance, hypoglycemia, etc.
    I’m fatigued a lot and running has become difficult where I feel like it takes me days to recover from a work out and I’m usually extremely sluggish when I try to run.
    It would be hard for me to take a break from running and get even more out of running shape than I already am, so I’m just trying to figure out if would really help….. I need to heal myself

    • Kindly, give your body a break. As someone whose body fell apart from stress (mental stress from grad school and living with a stressful room mate situation and physical stress from training a lot and also some nutritional stress like not enough dietary fat and in general not enough rest), I am still not 100% 7 years after I crashed and burned. Yes, you would lose some fitness if you stopped running now, but as you’ve pointed out, your body is desperate for a break. Every pro athlete has an off season to rest and rejuvenate their bodies.

      You would benefit from seeing a practitioner to help you through the adrenal fatigue and other hormone problems you are experiencing. My husband had similar hormone issues as you, and his naturopath encouraged him to minimize plastic in his life, lift weights moderately heavy to heavy 2-3x/week to increase testosterone, and meditate and do yoga to decrease stress hormones. That ended up not being enough, and for a while he was taking an estrogen blocking drug in addition to an injection of testosterone 2x/week, plus thyroid hormones and some other supplements. He is heavier now and not as fit (also perhaps related to us having a child and less time now!), but he also has a better hormone profile, good energy, a better memory, is sleeping better than he has in 20 years, and isn’t malnourished from digestive problems like he had been.

      Read the other stories on here. If you keep pushing yourself you may find yourself so exhausted you can’t even work full time anymore. Give yourself a real break for several weeks- just walking, stretching, gentle yoga, and with the guidance of whoever you find to help with the hormone imbalances, you can begin to build your exercise again. But you may need a longer break of more like 6 months. You may find you need some psychological help with this- I was my own worst enemy when it came to my recovery, and it took me years just to change my mindset from thinking I needed to go bike a couple hours each weekend to get a workout in. (Now I might hike 2 hours instead- but you will find what works for you).

      Also check out the most recent issue of Velo magazine- it details heart problems (such as death from heart attack and heart arrhythmia) that can arise from years and decades of too much endurance exercise. Not enough rest as we get older (40s, 50s and beyond) seems to be a big part of developing these problems.

      Good luck!

  17. Hi
    I have been High Intensity strength training for 20 years using Nautilus training principles. this means the training intensity is very high. About two years ago i started a palio diet with occasional fasting. i also increased my cardio with the help of squash, training every day. This all went very well for a few years, reaching single digit body fat levels etc. Then one day while playing squash while fasting i had my first palpitation. This sent me to the A&E hospital. I then over the next 4 months suffered reflux problems, palpitations, numbness, groin pain, fatigue and a whole host of other problems. due to the fact that i was in peak health the doctors could not find anything wrong with me so have diagnosed me with health anxiety. Not one doctor has so far told me why this has happened so i have had to do a lot of reading only to conclude that HIIT+HIT strength training+Palio = sympathetic overload. i have also learned that once you compromise your nervous system it can take months/years for it to recover. so in summary moderation is key to health.

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for this message.

      Just wanted to jump on what you said to try and understand what is happening to me for the last 3 years now.

      So after preparing for MMA competitions here with work during day and INTENSE HIT and sparring training in the evening, i become something else…

      Started with Anxiety then extreme fatigue then foggy brain weight loss etc, SEVERE exercise intolerance, very disturbed sleep etc…

      Things went a bit better with time (3 years now), i can do paced weight lifting without too many issues but i cannot hit on a punching bag with full power for 20 minutes.. otherwise hardtime sleeping, fatigue, difficulties eating food, anxiety, bowel issues, sleep apnea…..

      Does this relate to you? Do you feel quite similar?

      Went to visit more than 20 doctors they are ABSOLUTELY clueless… what about you?

      Thanks a lot in advance.

      • Hi Adel.
        Basically exercise produces stress hormones to be released into the body, and if it is moderate your body can cope. You could call this a positive stress.

        At the time i had my first palpitation i had had a virus, this was affecting my tummy and chest. But stupid me, i continued to train hard and diet hard, combined with excessive amounts of caffeine.

        I then started to suffer from panic attacks then adrenal fatigue. I continued to get worse and started to experience many physical sensations which sent me to my doctor then hospital for every test possible.

        My doctors don’t fully understand what has happened to me but are assuming it is stress related.

        So i started to research my problem only to find that anxiety can cause all of my problems and yours. i then found a few e books regarding low carb diets and the combination of intense training.

        So basically what is happening here is this, you have compromised your stress response. Anxiety symptoms are actually symptoms of stress. We call them anxiety symptoms because behaving in an overly apprehensive manner is the main source of the stress that causes the body to become stress-response hyperstimulated, and then, symptomatic. If you combine this with HIT training, (which is a stress) and low carb diets, (which causes stress hormones to be released into the body). You then have a compromised nervous system. once your nervous system is compromised all those chemicals, (adrenaline, cortisone etc, etc) start the affect your heart rhythm, digestive system, neurological system etc.

        I am still bang in the middle of all these problems but have realized that rest, and time away from the gym, as well as carbing up, is the only way to full recovery.

        You need to step away from intense exercise and nutrition until you start feeling better, remember that anxiety can lead to depression so getting help now is a must. CBT and possibly SSRI’s can help.

        Check out. http://www.anxietycentre.com and http://www.180degreehealth.com.

        This helped me understand what is going on.

        Hope this helps.

        • Steve and Adel,

          I’m so relieved to see that others have had a similar experience to mine. I’m no athlete but last year for several months I began a fitness journey that didn’t end very well. I was doing 3 hours of HIIT a week (nothing too crazy by most Crossfit athletes’ standards) but I’m learning now that as you get fitter, your recovery time becomes even more important than your workouts. One morning during camp I started feeling extremely fatigued, like my body was shutting down. Then the palpitations started and my heart rate didn’t come down for nearly 3 hours. I decided to take the rest of the week off then got back to camp the next week only to have the same symptoms crop up. I started suffering from insomnia, cortisol levels off the charts, severe anxiety (panic attacks virtually all day every day) and major exercise intolerance (just a walk around the block was enough to set my heart rate up). I was so out of sorts I had to quit my job.

          My trainer had no clue what was going on, and my doctor was even more clueless. He simply prescribed Xanax to help my anxiety, but that only made me feel a thousand times worse. What Chris has described here is the best explanation for what I (and probably the two of you) went through. Exposing the body to constant stress and not letting it repair. Exercise is a “good” stressor, but your body still perceives it to be an attack nonetheless. Imaging running away from a bear for an hour a day 6 days a week!

          I’m nearly healed over a year later but still struggle with anxiety at times, though I’m getting back into an exercise routine and not pushing myself nearly as hard or as often. I can’t say I recommend drugs as they are just a bandaid or make things worse. Only time and rest and nourishing your body will help. Hope that’s beneficial to others.

          • Hi
            Thought I’d check in after more than 6 months has passed since I wrote my story.

            I am still not 100% I have started exercising again and have a reasonable diet, but I still suffer from anxiety. Granted it is much less now but still have palps and panic attacks.

            It’s been a just over a year now and still I have not found any medical conditions I can label myself apart from anxiety.

            Anyone else found that once compromised it takes a long time to get back to normal.

            • Hi Steve,
              Our stories sound really familiar. I was in peak physical fitness at 31 years old until unexpectedly during a 300 lb back squat (I was 142 lbs) I felt as if my legs and entire central nervous system shut down. It didn’t manifest until that evening when my heart began to race and I felt like I had low blood sugar. These symptoms among the myriad of other physical sensations mirrored that of anxiety. Long story short these symptoms eventually did develop into crippling anxiety for weeks. During that time I went through bouts of depression, agoraphobia, health anxiety***, etc etc. I have a history or sporadic anxiety with intermittent bouts of panic attacks. Here are some steps that have helped pull me out of the pits of despair: mediation, faith (for me Buddhism), communicating with loved ones about your anxiety who may not know, plenty of water, lower glycemic but not ultra low carb diet, daily walks, breathing techniques, complete rest from the gym, reducing extraneous stressors like extra work projects-personal life obligations etc, and most helpful was readying “Dare: The new way to end anxiety and stop panic attacks. By Barry Mcdonaugh. I recommend the audiobook version. His system really does work if you wholeheartedly practice and want to end your anxiety cycle. I treated this as if it was my second job, which honestly it was and still is. I also found several herbal supplements helpful as I wanted to avoid SSRI’s And benzo’s. The most useful in order : 1. Ashwagandha (backed by plenty of controlled randomized trials. Was comparable to Atavan, and some of the stronger Benzo’s without the side effects). 2. Kava kava root extract. 3. L-Theanine/magnesium. Play with the dosages to find works best for you. Start with a low dose and work your way up if necessary.
              ***your goal should never to be cure yourself of anxiety, but accept it as a natural part of being human. Ride the peaks and valleys of emotion without judgement. Once you learn to accept the physical sensations of anxiety, you no longer manifest those all too familiar feelings of dread and doom. It takes time, days, weeks, months, years. The sooner you discover the sources of your anxiety, and face them, the sooner you can get back to being yourself and let allow anxiety to control your life anymore. Hope this is helpful, take care and be kind to yourself.

              Best Wishes

              Will

    • Mark, i’m 50 and i feel the same when i go to the gym and you have to remember you are not in your 20″s and 30’s anymore..Age plays a big difference in recovery speed which is slower when you get over 40…i was a gym rat for 31 yrs until my muscles start going into spasms and it took days to recover from it… I don’t go to gym for weights anymore i only do cross fit machines and treadmill and i feel much better and less fatigued and stressed out..I also had to wait out of the gym for 6 months to a year for full recovery …

  18. Hi.
    Im concerned about my workout condition acording to what you’ve written above.
    i started my workout 3 months ago. I do 20 min running and 40 min walking fast after that everyday early in the morning and do lifting 3 days a week on afternoon for 1 hour. I recently feel exhausted aNd i also feel like there is no body fat decreasing and seems to be stopped.
    I know im overtraining but i need to keep it going and not to fall into overtraining syndrome.
    what do you suggest?

  19. I suffer from anxiety and depression,my doctor told me that exercise was a good treatment for this,I have been brisk walking 5days a week for 30minutes,but after reading that exercise raises your cortisol levels,I’m a bit worried,

    • Walking is a low intensity exercise and I cannot possibly think it can be bad for you…

    • Yes, Judy, walking is good, will probably help you feel better. Chris is talking more about over exercise (Crossfitters, people running lots, etc.). Don’t be afraid to walk! I am a physical therapist and agree with your doctor that walking 30 min 5x/week will likely improve your health and mood. You may also want to do some gentle or beginner yoga, either in a studio or there are great online yoga programs like yogatoday.com

    • Your problem is that you worry too much. Stop that.

      You have two parts – your brain and your body. Let your body dictate when you move and when you don’t move. Don’t let your brain have a say in that at all.

      Get rid of the 5 and the 30. Go outside and walk – a bit – sometimes.

      Worrying is part of the profile of a control freak (trying to control the future). Lose control. Lose the numbers.

  20. I am 50 years old & have been doing crossfit for about 18 months. Started out losing weight. Now, yes I am building muscle but also gaining the talked about weight around the belly. Eating more or eating less changes nothing. Extremely frustrating and discouraging. I have been on varied level of synthroid for 23 years. Is it cortisol? Is crossfit to intense for me? Any suggestions or help are needed & appreciated.

    • Lin, I am with you. I am 46, started crossfit 18 months ago. I had never exercised regularly before that time. I am gaining muscle, am a lot stronger…but I also have this gut that has slightly increased and will not budge. I am up about 20 lbs since starting. I love crossfit and have benefited from it, but maybe I should switch to something a little lower intensity? Any suggestions, anyone?

      • You can do crossfit, but less frequently at a lower intensity. I worked with Scott Hagnas of Crossfit Portland on this (he is very knowledgeable, and Crossfit Portland was one of the first 25 crossfits in the world).

        Cut back to 2 days a week, possibly 3, and keep your intensity such that you are not straining- no scrunched up face, grunts, or whatever you do when you are going really hard. Also limit the metcons to about 12 minutes tops. You might need a 1 month temporary break, where you are just doing the warm-ups and cooldowns and working on mobility. I guarantee you will still maintain and build fitness even not going balls-to-the-wall- you might even make more gains and lose some fat! I find that I need to limit myself to about 80% of my max to avoid ill health effects. You will need to monitor yourself and figure out what works for you.

        Also I had a crossfitting friend who found she had to increase her carbs to 200+ grams per day- even drinking juice! She did not gain any weight and still looks amazing, but was able to get her period back- she had gone off the pill and hadn’t had a period even a year after being off of it, but it came back in weeks after increasing her carbs.

        Good luck!

        • Thank you, Jenn! I love Crossfit and would be bummed if I had to stop. I think I will try going only 2 days a week, and dialing back the intensity just a little. I do belong to another gym too, and think I will try some other lower intensity classes a couple days a week too. I appreciate your help! 🙂

      • Thank you for this life altering read… It makes sense, it’s thoroughly explained, and it’s exactly what I was looking for. So glad to have stumbled on this community!

    • Yes, crossfit is too intense – for you, for anyone.

      Ask yourself: What am I trying to achieve and why? Anything to do with pride? Pride will raise cortisol and make you fat and unhealthy. It comes before a fall, remember?

      Most people who push themselves do so out of (seven deadly sin) pride.

      Do a few push ups. Later, do a few bodyweight squats. Laugh.

      You need very little exercise.