What’s the Best Type of Exercise for Adrenal Fatigue?

DrR Feature Images TBT215If you’re struggling with some level of adrenal fatigue, then it’s likely you’re experiencing low energy, fatigue, problems sleeping or feeling rested, and low motivation. Even if you’re someone who used to exercise on a regular basis, you may be having a hard time finding the energy or motivation to do regular exercise. Additionally, certain types of exercise may actually make your adrenal fatigue worse.

The question then becomes, should you exercise when you have adrenal imbalances, and what types of exercises are best?


If you’re struggling with some level of adrenal fatigue, then it’s likely you’re experiencing low energy, fatigue, problems sleeping or feeling rested, and low motivation. Even if you’re someone who used to exercise on a regular basis, you may be having a hard time finding the energy or motivation to do regular exercise. Additionally, certain types of exercise may actually make your adrenal fatigue worse.

The question then becomes, should you exercise when you have adrenal imbalances, and what types of exercise are best?

The short answer is, yes, you should incorporate some level of physical activity even if you have adrenal fatigue. However, that will look different for each person.

AdobeStock113220040WEBlifestyleexerciseExercise, especially high-intensity exercise, is stressful on the body and it causes your body to release cortisol. There’s the belief that cardio exercise, like running, is really adrenally taxing, but we’re now starting to see that even aggressive circuits can be adrenally taxing as we’ve seen with CrossFit athletes.

A recent study looked at adrenal cortisol response of high-intensity, short-rest, resistance exercise in healthy men and women. The study found that short rest periods may not be good for those with adrenal fatigue, as they caused an increased adrenal response. It demonstrated that a CrossFit-type training session showed much higher levels of cortisol produced. If you’ve got cortisol issues to begin with of various forms, you probably cannot keep up with that output and keep your health at the same time.

In the world of functional medicine, we often advise against high-intensity cardio and actually recommend circuit training or resistance training for those with adrenal fatigue. While prolonged cardio exercise that lasts more than an hour is not ideal, we’re finding that intense circuit training with short rest periods may actually be worse. These types of workouts, such as CrossFit, actually cause the most adrenal stress.

You do want cortisol to be released during exercise. However, once you are done with that exercise, you want the cortisol response to actually go back down as fast as possible.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise or you shouldn’t do resistance training. For those with adrenal issues, lower-level cardiovascular training is actually beneficial. Mike T. Nelson even recommends using a heart rate monitor to help you stay between 120 and 140 beats per minute, and sometimes even lower than that.

dreamstimem63215696WEBrunningexerciselifestyleIf you’re ill and more intense exercise is too much for you at this point, then we recommend play-like activity with a friend while in nature, because you will benefit in multiple ways; you’ll get some socialization, you will get some time in nature, and you will also get play. So, try to do some play-like activity—it might be hiking, an intramural sports league, paddleboarding, or something that’s not overly intense. This way, you’re doing something that’s fun, that you do in nature with a friend, and you’re getting the exercise benefit, the socialization benefit, the time in nature benefit, and also the play benefit.

In terms of how much exercise and how often, we recommend starting with exercising to the point of breaking a sweat 2 to 3 times a week for 15 to 30 minutes. This is a great starting point if you’re not feeling well. It’s not too intense, but you’re getting regular movement that your body needs. Then you want to pay attention to how you feel. If after a week or so you feel more tired than you were before, then scale back. If you are feeling better than you were before, then you can ramp up. There are two ways to look at this: your general level of fatigue and your level of energy right after a workout. If you are doing exercise the right way, if you are having the right dose, you should feel energized after a workout. And you should generally think you have better energy levels overall.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re exercising with adrenal fatigue.

  1. AdobeStock84320681WEBlifestyleheartShort rest periods between sets may provoke your adrenal fatigue. Avoid short rest periods between sets. Rest for at least 60 seconds or longer. Get your heart rate up, but let it come back down and recover.
  2. Keep exercise under an hour; 20 to 30 minutes is ideal.
  3. Walk in nature—walking outside in nature has been shown to have tremendous health benefits. Even just a 15-minute walk in nature can have powerful effects of reducing anxiety and depression, and increasing feelings of energy, vigor, and subjective well-being.
  4. Use a tool like heart rate variability to track your heart rate and monitor if you’re working too hard.

Solutions for restoring adrenal function:

  1. AdobeStock74770593WEBPerform simple, low-intensity movement. Get up and go for a walk for a half hour in the morning—just get low-level general movement. This will help with mental performance too.
  2. Perform daily stress-management, self-care activities, such as deep breathing, meditation, prayer, and journaling.
  3. Increase different sources of micronutrition and work on expansion. Within your tolerability, try expanding the numbers of foods that you can eat and still have a good response.
  4. Increase your exercise capacity slowly—you don’t need to go all the way to the limit of where your body is at. You just need to do a little bit more volume, a little bit more work, and then your capacity gets bigger over time.
  5. Make sure you’re not over-training. As mentioned above, monitor how you feel in terms of general fatigue and energy levels after exercise.
  6. Have some way of being able to tell if you are doing more exercise than your body can handle. Using heart rate variability can be a great tool.

For more on exercise with adrenal fatigue and heart rate variability, listen to our podcasts with Mike T. Nelson at the links below.

What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.

Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.

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