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

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 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.

Exercise, 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.

If 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. Short 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. Perform 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.

Discussion

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52 thoughts on “What’s the Best Type of Exercise for Adrenal Fatigue?

  1. Hello
    I’m a certified nutritionist and suffered from adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism…i was in the moderate to severe adrenal fatigue stage… And found that walking more than 5 minutes made me much worse, but strength exercises such Pilates or light weight lifting actually make me much better…as long as it was between 20-30min.
    For those that are severely fatigued, walking is not advised, but rather only yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) or restorative yoga and/or yin yoga. I found these helpful in my recovery. Sadly walking in nature also made my adrenals worse …so maybe u could suggest for those that have severe adrenal fatigue to try breathing exercises and restorative/yin yoga.

    1. Thanks for your reply. I recently had one of Adrenals removes and the second one isn’t producing enough Cortisol, so I’m currently taking Hydrocortisone to compensate. What supplements and foods helped you to recover and might it work for me as well?

  2. Hello
    I’m a certified nutritionist and suffered from adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism…i was in the moderate to severe adrenal fatigue stage… And found that walking more than 5 minutes made me much worse, but strength exercises such Pilates or light weight lifting actually make me much better…as long as it was between 20-30min.
    For those that are severely fatigued, walking is not advised, but rather only yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) or restorative yoga and/or yin yoga. I found these helpful in my recovery. Sadly walking in nature also made my adrenals worse …so maybe u could suggest for those that have severe adrenal fatigue to try breathing exercises and restorative/yin yoga.

    1. Thanks for your reply. I recently had one of Adrenals removes and the second one isn’t producing enough Cortisol, so I’m currently taking Hydrocortisone to compensate. What supplements and foods helped you to recover and might it work for me as well?

  3. How do I get my sleep back? I have cut my exercise back to walking and yoga during the week. It appears that high intensity cardio is not recommended, i usually take a bodyattack class saturday mornings but i will skip that today and take a walk. Do you ha e any recommendations on how to get my sleep back? Thank you!!

    1. Hi Lori,

      Thanks for your comment and I’m sorry to hear you’re having a hard time sleeping.

      If your sleep issues are related to adrenal hormone imbalances, you may want to try having a snack before bed to keep your blood sugar steady throughout the night.

      For some other suggestions on improving sleep, check out this podcast Dr. Ruscio did on the topic: https://drruscio.com/sleep-much-just-bad-enough-episode-36/

      Also, we know there’s a big connection between sleep and the gut, so working to improve gut health often improves sleep as well. If you haven’t read Dr. Ruscio’s book “Healthy Gut, Healthy You” yet, you may want to check it out: https://drruscio.com/getgutbook/

      Good luck!

    2. Acid pressure on your feet can help, they have utube videos that show how, also herbal tea with honey, the sugar in the honey stores in your liver and is released slowly to help you stay asleep, my husband is in stage two adrenal fatigue and these help a lot …. hope it helps you too 😊

  4. How do I get my sleep back? I have cut my exercise back to walking and yoga during the week. It appears that high intensity cardio is not recommended, i usually take a bodyattack class saturday mornings but i will skip that today and take a walk. Do you ha e any recommendations on how to get my sleep back? Thank you!!

    1. Hi Lori,

      Thanks for your comment and I’m sorry to hear you’re having a hard time sleeping.

      If your sleep issues are related to adrenal hormone imbalances, you may want to try having a snack before bed to keep your blood sugar steady throughout the night.

      For some other suggestions on improving sleep, check out this podcast Dr. Ruscio did on the topic: https://drruscio.com/sleep-much-just-bad-enough-episode-36/

      Also, we know there’s a big connection between sleep and the gut, so working to improve gut health often improves sleep as well. If you haven’t read Dr. Ruscio’s book “Healthy Gut, Healthy You” yet, you may want to check it out: https://drruscio.com/getgutbook/

      Good luck!

    2. Acid pressure on your feet can help, they have utube videos that show how, also herbal tea with honey, the sugar in the honey stores in your liver and is released slowly to help you stay asleep, my husband is in stage two adrenal fatigue and these help a lot …. hope it helps you too 😊

  5. I was newly diagnosed with adrenalin deficiency. I have been doing CrossFit for 2 years. I struggle with my weight so it has been a blessing to do. I was in great shape until I got sick. I do want to return to CrossFit is there a way I can do that and manage my illness. I’m on high doses of steroids at at this time hundred 120 mg a day. But I don’t want to gain weight cause I know that steroids are bad for this. I really want to go back to working out if possible

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I’m sorry to hear you’re going through that. As stated in the article, it looks like CrossFit-type workouts are pretty tough on the adrenals, so depending on where you are in your recovery, it’s probably advised to stay away from them for a while. Resistance training can still potentially work though, but it’s all about listening to your body and making sure not to overdo it.

      Good luck!

  6. I was newly diagnosed with adrenalin deficiency. I have been doing CrossFit for 2 years. I struggle with my weight so it has been a blessing to do. I was in great shape until I got sick. I do want to return to CrossFit is there a way I can do that and manage my illness. I’m on high doses of steroids at at this time hundred 120 mg a day. But I don’t want to gain weight cause I know that steroids are bad for this. I really want to go back to working out if possible

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I’m sorry to hear you’re going through that. As stated in the article, it looks like CrossFit-type workouts are pretty tough on the adrenals, so depending on where you are in your recovery, it’s probably advised to stay away from them for a while. Resistance training can still potentially work though, but it’s all about listening to your body and making sure not to overdo it.

      Good luck!

  7. I require hydrocortisone at breakfast (7.5mg) and lunch (5mg) for my Addison’s. Is it advisable to workout before getting in the first dose of hydrocortisone. I feel better when I walk for about 20 min before eating breakfast, however about 1 1/2 hours after I eat breakfast and take the hydrocortisone I get a significant drop in energy. I depend on caffeine a lot to pull me out of this but I’m sure that isn’t good for me.

    1. Hi Carolyn,

      Truthfully, I’m not sure. Do you have the same drop in energy after breakfast if you don’t work out? I would play around with some variables and see if you can pinpoint what’s happening – e.g. Try walking for a shorter amount of time and see if it still happens, try changing up your breakfast, etc. Also, talking to your doctor about it is a good idea as well. Good luck!

  8. I require hydrocortisone at breakfast (7.5mg) and lunch (5mg) for my Addison’s. Is it advisable to workout before getting in the first dose of hydrocortisone. I feel better when I walk for about 20 min before eating breakfast, however about 1 1/2 hours after I eat breakfast and take the hydrocortisone I get a significant drop in energy. I depend on caffeine a lot to pull me out of this but I’m sure that isn’t good for me.

    1. Hi Carolyn,

      Truthfully, I’m not sure. Do you have the same drop in energy after breakfast if you don’t work out? I would play around with some variables and see if you can pinpoint what’s happening – e.g. Try walking for a shorter amount of time and see if it still happens, try changing up your breakfast, etc. Also, talking to your doctor about it is a good idea as well. Good luck!

    1. Hi Serene,

      Everyone is different and it depends on a lot of factors, including how severe the issues are, so it could be anywhere from 6 months – 2 years, but again, depends on the person.

    1. Hi Serene,

      Everyone is different and it depends on a lot of factors, including how severe the issues are, so it could be anywhere from 6 months – 2 years, but again, depends on the person.

  9. I had started to attend a fit body boot camp 6 months ago for 30 min work out twice a week to lose weight. I loved it and then was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. So I stopped. But my weight is not going down. Is working out in this way okay if you are not feeling bad after?

    1. Adrenal issues can actually impair weight loss. It’s probably best to avoid high intensity exercise until your adrenals are recovered. But check in with your doctor for specific guidance.

  10. I had started to attend a fit body boot camp 6 months ago for 30 min work out twice a week to lose weight. I loved it and then was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. So I stopped. But my weight is not going down. Is working out in this way okay if you are not feeling bad after?

    1. Adrenal issues can actually impair weight loss. It’s probably best to avoid high intensity exercise until your adrenals are recovered. But check in with your doctor for specific guidance.

  11. I just found out that I have low cortisol (8am blood test was 7.43). I do feel tired sometimes but feel so much better/energized after a long bike ride or hike. I can’t get into the endo for a few more weeks. Do you think it’s ok to keep biking? Thanks!

    1. We can’t give personalized medical advice on this forum, but I would say listen to your body and don’t push it. Hope this helps.

  12. I just found out that I have low cortisol (8am blood test was 7.43). I do feel tired sometimes but feel so much better/energized after a long bike ride or hike. I can’t get into the endo for a few more weeks. Do you think it’s ok to keep biking? Thanks!

    1. We can’t give personalized medical advice on this forum, but I would say listen to your body and don’t push it. Hope this helps.

  13. What are your thoughts on powerlifting? I gave myself severe adrenal fatigue doing CrossFit by constantly pushing myself despite being fatigued. I’ve mostly recovered by doing only hiking as my exercise and getting lots of sleep and practicing stress management techniques but still have a little apprehension around trying anything that’s intense. Do you think the low reps/ heavy weight of powerlifting would be ok? I’m assuming it’s much easier on the HPA axis due to the longer rest periods and less metabolic stress that high reps cause. Thanks for the great article!

  14. What are your thoughts on powerlifting? I gave myself severe adrenal fatigue doing CrossFit by constantly pushing myself despite being fatigued. I’ve mostly recovered by doing only hiking as my exercise and getting lots of sleep and practicing stress management techniques but still have a little apprehension around trying anything that’s intense. Do you think the low reps/ heavy weight of powerlifting would be ok? I’m assuming it’s much easier on the HPA axis due to the longer rest periods and less metabolic stress that high reps cause. Thanks for the great article!

  15. I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and low cortisol levels and everything that goes with those conditions, including Tachycardia). I have others too, but these are the ones that effect my exercise ability. I have both of these as well as moderate to severe inflammation, for which I can’t take anti-inflammatories (Polycystic Kidney Disease). I eat a relatively healthy diet, particularly keeping the carbs down. I feel better all the way around with minimal carbs.

    I desperately want to get back to some kind of exercise and tone my body up that has been mostly sedentary since I had my second bout of Adrenal “Fatigue” over 2 years ago when I had to stop working for the second time; (first occurrence started in 2010 and I finally quit when I reached Stage 4 Adrenal Crisis by 2012). It took almost 4 years to recover. I still have no energy, ACTH doesn’t show primary Adrenal Insufficiency, so I am thinking dysregulation somewhere in the HPA Axis and likely Secondary Insufficiency. I have had irregular cycles, severe insomnia and major daytime hypersomnolence. I developed Metabolic Syndrome and steadily gained 60 lbs. I went on a low-carb diet and lost 70 lbs . Strangely, even though I weigh 115 at 5’4, I still have to take Metformin 3 times a day to keep blood sugars stable! Multiple crossover symptoms make exact diagnosis very difficult, particularly on Medicaid. My PCP literally threw up his hands and said it’s Adrenal Fatigue. If I can’t find the root cause, how can I stop the cycle?

    Ok, I said a lot more than I intended. I am wanting to know what exercise I should attempt, how long, and frequency. If you have any other thoughts about all this, I would certainly welcome them! Thanks!

    1. Hi Shannon,

      Have you looked at gut health at all? In Dr Ruscio’s experience, that can be an important piece of the adrenal fatigue puzzle. Unfortunately we can’t offer personalized advice on this forum, but you may want to pick up a copy of Dr Ruscio’s book “Healthy Gut, Healthy You” which walks through a DIY protocol for overcoming gut issues that includes adrenal support. You can find it here: https://www.drruscio.com/getgutbook If you would like personalized advice from Dr R, you’re welcome to contact the clinic and apply to become a patient. He sees patients virtually if you’re not in CA. https://www.drruscio.com/gethelp Good luck!

  16. I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and low cortisol levels and everything that goes with those conditions, including Tachycardia). I have others too, but these are the ones that effect my exercise ability. I have both of these as well as moderate to severe inflammation, for which I can’t take anti-inflammatories (Polycystic Kidney Disease). I eat a relatively healthy diet, particularly keeping the carbs down. I feel better all the way around with minimal carbs.

    I desperately want to get back to some kind of exercise and tone my body up that has been mostly sedentary since I had my second bout of Adrenal “Fatigue” over 2 years ago when I had to stop working for the second time; (first occurrence started in 2010 and I finally quit when I reached Stage 4 Adrenal Crisis by 2012). It took almost 4 years to recover. I still have no energy, ACTH doesn’t show primary Adrenal Insufficiency, so I am thinking dysregulation somewhere in the HPA Axis and likely Secondary Insufficiency. I have had irregular cycles, severe insomnia and major daytime hypersomnolence. I developed Metabolic Syndrome and steadily gained 60 lbs. I went on a low-carb diet and lost 70 lbs . Strangely, even though I weigh 115 at 5’4, I still have to take Metformin 3 times a day to keep blood sugars stable! Multiple crossover symptoms make exact diagnosis very difficult, particularly on Medicaid. My PCP literally threw up his hands and said it’s Adrenal Fatigue. If I can’t find the root cause, how can I stop the cycle?

    Ok, I said a lot more than I intended. I am wanting to know what exercise I should attempt, how long, and frequency. If you have any other thoughts about all this, I would certainly welcome them! Thanks!

    1. Hi Shannon,

      Have you looked at gut health at all? In Dr Ruscio’s experience, that can be an important piece of the adrenal fatigue puzzle. Unfortunately we can’t offer personalized advice on this forum, but you may want to pick up a copy of Dr Ruscio’s book “Healthy Gut, Healthy You” which walks through a DIY protocol for overcoming gut issues that includes adrenal support. You can find it here: https://www.drruscio.com/getgutbook If you would like personalized advice from Dr R, you’re welcome to contact the clinic and apply to become a patient. He sees patients virtually if you’re not in CA. https://www.drruscio.com/gethelp Good luck!

  17. I have hypothyroidism and am on levothyroxine 50 mcg daily, also my doctor said I have adreanal insufficiency/fatigue. That’s all he said and left it at at that I do t know where to go from here? Im low on growth hormone and some others, I’ve a ramped up appetite and a cervical disc injury, but most concerned on how to exercise if at all? I’m so depressed and try to lose weight this all makes it difficult.. I wanted my cortisol levels tested, my Dr was not very thorough and I am confused. I light weight training but have weakness in muscles and joints pain to the extreme and fatigue/hunger constantly and difficulty sleeping.. what are suggestions on how to heal? I’ve rested and tried to heal for months now, not kidding and nothing is helping..I need a hormone replacer or I do t know help me please?!!:(( I. Taking probiotics, all natural things also, you name it I’ve done it.. I have a Endo appointment tomorrow, for a second opinion on it. What tests should I ask for???

  18. I have hypothyroidism and am on levothyroxine 50 mcg daily, also my doctor said I have adreanal insufficiency/fatigue. That’s all he said and left it at at that I do t know where to go from here? Im low on growth hormone and some others, I’ve a ramped up appetite and a cervical disc injury, but most concerned on how to exercise if at all? I’m so depressed and try to lose weight this all makes it difficult.. I wanted my cortisol levels tested, my Dr was not very thorough and I am confused. I light weight training but have weakness in muscles and joints pain to the extreme and fatigue/hunger constantly and difficulty sleeping.. what are suggestions on how to heal? I’ve rested and tried to heal for months now, not kidding and nothing is helping..I need a hormone replacer or I do t know help me please?!!:(( I. Taking probiotics, all natural things also, you name it I’ve done it.. I have a Endo appointment tomorrow, for a second opinion on it. What tests should I ask for???

  19. I have been diagnosed with extreme adrenal fatigue.

    I have just gotten back into weights. I was doing stair runs before hand. I’ve been like this for year and years and years and they’ve only just realised what my issue is. Exercise makes me feel better. I don’t actually feel more tired, I feel energised. I am tired every other time, as I haven’t had a decent night sleep in 16 years. If I am feeling energised after exercise, such as my stair runs, which only go for 20 minutes at most, then do you think it is ok to continue? My coach is very hesitant because she doesn’t want me screwing them up any more than they already are. I am on a strict diet and supplement plan from my naturopath also.

  20. I have been diagnosed with extreme adrenal fatigue.

    I have just gotten back into weights. I was doing stair runs before hand. I’ve been like this for year and years and years and they’ve only just realised what my issue is. Exercise makes me feel better. I don’t actually feel more tired, I feel energised. I am tired every other time, as I haven’t had a decent night sleep in 16 years. If I am feeling energised after exercise, such as my stair runs, which only go for 20 minutes at most, then do you think it is ok to continue? My coach is very hesitant because she doesn’t want me screwing them up any more than they already are. I am on a strict diet and supplement plan from my naturopath also.

  21. im not a expert but of everything to stay away from i would not do stair runs, if anything do a normal run and keep it under an hour. If you must do climbing runs then i would limit it to 20-30 minutes personally. The very reason i have adrenaline fatigue is HILL running on treadmill,it is a dangerous thing. Then again i was doing a lot and not taking rest days. I think each individual will have their own limits. But its true you would have to be super careful with it.

  22. im not a expert but of everything to stay away from i would not do stair runs, if anything do a normal run and keep it under an hour. If you must do climbing runs then i would limit it to 20-30 minutes personally. The very reason i have adrenaline fatigue is HILL running on treadmill,it is a dangerous thing. Then again i was doing a lot and not taking rest days. I think each individual will have their own limits. But its true you would have to be super careful with it.

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