Running from Stress or Stress from Running?
I really love a good run.
Above all the benefits of exercise, for me the most important was stress relief.
I ran to clear my head, to get away from my thoughts for a bit and to focus on one thing. Just me, a good playlist, and a pretty Toronto trail and I was in my zone. To me, this was grounding. It was a grounding I sought several times a week for about an hour at a time.
I began to notice certain changes in myself over the years, and I didn't like them.
I stopped sleeping well. My skin started to breakout and I started feeling really anxious. I started drinking more coffee, and started getting sick more frequently. I noticed that I was having less and less tolerance for stressful things, my fuse was suddenly really short.
I was stressed, so of course, I turned to those lovely trails to help me de-stress. It felt good in the moment, like it always did, but I still wasn't sleeping all that great at the end of the day and my symptoms didn't seem to be getting any better.
As I went about my schooling to become a Holistic Nutritionist, I learned more and more about my adrenals and quickly realized that those big long runs can actually be pretty stressful on the body. When you train in such a way, you actually cause quite a bit of oxidative stress in the body (which is why proper nutrition is essential after exercise), and your cortisol (stress hormone) levels spike. If you pair frequent, long, high intensity workouts like I was doing with poor nutrition and poor sleep, you are setting yourself up for adrenal burnout.
In a lot of cases, due to the stressful lives we live these days, we put a lot of pressure on our bodies and our cortisol levels stay high for long periods of time. This really wears the body out.
Your adrenals, where cortisol is made, get tired of constantly making this hormone and eventually, in their struggle to keep up with the demand, tire and start making less. Because cortisol is so important for survival (it activates our fight or flight response) your body will stop making other seemingly less vital hormones -- like sex hormones -- to focus on pumping out more cortisol so you can "survive" the stressful situation. In many cases, this is why many women who over train or who have a lot of stress in their life will stop getting their periods.
And so I decided to stop the long, exhaustive workouts.
I started walking to the trails and doing shorter, higher intensity runs and started doing more yoga. I realized that that meditative benefit I loved so much about running on trails could be found in other places too. I created new zones for relieving stress. I still got my exercise, just in different ways that didn't add further stress on the hormonal balance of my body.
This change, coupled with some other daily lifestyle practices finally started to spark light on those improvements I had waited so long to see. I started sleeping better, the belly fat that had start creeping up on me crept away...same with the anxiety, and my skin got better.
Adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalance can take work to correct but the accumulation of little stress relieving habits combined can make all the difference.
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Here is a link to a study that can give you more evidence of over training and its effect on the adrenal