Today I finally come with some good news for everyone that doesn’t like exercising for more than 40 minutes or all the busy women that simply don’t have the time to work out for hours and hours. I personally love short and sharp workouts as I get easily bored. However in the past I always felt bad for doing ONLY a 15 or 20 minute workout. I felt that it would not be worth the time getting changed and sweaty and that it would not make a difference. But having recently done the training Menopause movement I learned that actually shorter workouts are beneficial and not less effective -especially going through the transition! Yeay! But why is that? Let me tell you more about Cortisol, which is the main reason to keep workouts shorter.
To understand why cortisol is so important, you should have a fundamental understanding of what it is and what it does. I promise to keep it very low-nerd. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It is one of the essential hormones in the body because it touches every other system. Cortisol is naturally higher in the morning and tapers down as the day goes on. However, when the body remains under constant stress, cortisol levels remain high regardless of the time of day. Stress can be any kind of stress, work related stress, stressors in your personal life and also longer workouts.
High Cortisol can have many negative effect like the below. You might recognize some of them.
- Reduced libido
- Mood changes
- Depressive or anxious thoughts
- Trouble sleeping
- Short-term memory issues
- Lack of menstrual cycle
Cortisol and Exercise
As mentioned above when the body feels stress or anxiety, it releases cortisol. Exercise is one of those stressors because it results in increased energy demand. Two factors that impact the release of cortisol during exercise are intensity and duration. Exercise bouts that last longer than roughly 40 min can increase cortisol. Findings from one study show that high-intensity exercise increases cortisol levels. So doing a very high-intensity workouts and also doing them over a long period of time when you’re already stressed is like adding fuel to the fire you are trying to put out.
How does Cortisol impact the body in the Menopause?
Estrogen helps the body counteract some of the adverse effects of cortisol. However as mentioned in my previous articles estrogen decreases as we transition which means also our cortisol-fighting superpowers diminish more and more. This means that if your body could handle some of the excess day-to-day stress before, it may not be able to handle it quite as well now. As if this is not depressing enough, increased cortisol levels play a significant role in increased belly fat, which is one of the most reported symptoms of menopause. I will actually write a separate article about the pesty belly fat in the menopause so watch out for that, but
the bottom line is that during menopause, your body is already under a lot of stress. So, adding strategies that can help minimize chronic stress levels and cortisol spikes can play a significant role in symptom management – one of those strategies can be shorter workouts.
Our classes at At Your Peak are designed so we only have a maximum of 45 minute workout time … mostly much less taking into consideration that we do at least 5-7 min cool down stretches in every classes. Give it the shorter workouts a try, and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you.