Fitness Articles

Exercises that Decrease Cortisol

How to lower cortisol levels – Frequent exercise is good for you. Yes, you heard it here first.

Having lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol is just one of the many proven benefits of exercise.


how to lower cortisol levels


This is because exercise in itself is a stressor.

But if our goal is to decrease cortisol then how does that help you?

Allow me to show you, with some background info first.


Some Important background info

Cortisol is an adrenal hormone secreted by the body in times of stress.

Some examples of said stress include.


  • Low blood sugar
  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Tissue damage
  • Strenuous activity
  • Perception of danger or distress


Cortisol helps your body deal with the above situations effectively. The hormone is thus in no way your enemy. But too much of a good thing is bad then, how to lower cortisol levels.

how to lower cortisol levels

Being a 21st-century adult, with bills to pay, kids to raise and plenty of deliciously unhealthy food to eat, the above stressors are constantly around.

This leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels, which may lead to many nasty things including:


  • Muscle Wastage
  • Fat Accumulation
  • Suppressed Immunity
  • Decreased libido
  • Anxiety
  • Brain Fog
  • Poor memory performance
  • Type 2 diabetes


So, in summary, cortisol is good, but chronically elevated cortisol is bad.

The bad news is, given our lifestyles, we are doomed to have some degree of chronic elevation.

The good news?

There’s an answer to that.



Exercise and Cortisol levels

We mentioned that strenuous activity is a marker for stress, and thus raises your cortisol levels. How to lower cortisol levels.

But that’s actually why we want to exercise.

See, the whole principle behind exercises is to subject your body to a strain that forces it to adapt to be better able to handle it in the future.

how to lower cortisol levels

The more you do this, the stronger you will get, and the fewer resources your body will have to employ to deal with that stressor, or others, in the future.

Your cortisol levels being no exception

There’s a catch, however.

Approaching exercises, the wrong way could do you more harm than good.

And, unfortunately, many of us who exercise already do.

Choosing the wrong routines can make your cortisol levels shoot way up, and stay up for a while after.

The key to choosing the right exercise is in understanding the following concepts of Maximal and Submaximal training.

So, let's have you do just that.



Maximal and Submaximal Training

Max and Submax training are two principles that define how far you push your body during a routine.

You probably know all about maximal training though. It means leaving everything you’ve got to offer in that session.

If you are truly dedicated, that also includes this morning’s breakfast.

It is the more popular way to train and has its benefits in bringing fast and effective results.

It takes a massive toll on your body, however, including your cortisol levels. This is because your body will secrete the hormones in high amounts to try and deal with the extent of the damage you’ve subjected it to.

Worse still is if you train on an empty stomach. A fasted workout will help you burn fat, yes, but low blood sugar plus strenuous conditions spell double trouble.

This is in contrast to its less popular counterpart, sub-maximal training,

The basis of sub max training is to push yourself till you’re just below or gently touching the limit.

how to lower cortisol levels

By using a load that is at about 80% of your max and performing higher volumes of higher quality reps, you ensure you’re giving your body just the right amount of stimulation to induce adaptation.

The jury is still out as to which method produces the best physical results; however, more and more research and professional anecdotes are suggesting programming the latter has proven to be just as, and sometimes more effective than the former.

In fact, many professional athletes only employ maximal training in preparation for the competition, otherwise, they perform at a sub-max.

You’re also at a lower risk of injury with sub max training, and few things are more stressful than an injury.

Maximal training could in theory also lower your cortisol levels in the long run, but that is only if it is used very sparingly, and if you allow your body adequate time to rest

But let’s face it. Most of us either can’t or won’t rest enough.

So, if your goal is to shape up or maintain healthy cortisol levels, sub max is the way to go.

Okay. Now that that’s in mind let's take a look at those exercises.



Kettlebell Swing

There are very few exercises that have been celebrated more in recent times than ones with the kettlebell.

The kettlebell swing is among the more basic of these exercises. It has been celebrated by athletes and professional trainers for its ability to provide effective muscular activation while also training your mobility, body awareness, and coordination.

If your goal is to lower your cortisol levels, this is what you’re aiming for. Since our day to day lives require the use of our whole body, doing the same in an exercise will lead to more relevant, and thus effective adaptation.

how to lower cortisol levels

Mobility and body awareness also have a psychological effect. The greater confidence your body has in its abilities, the less stress it will take navigating any spaces you find yourself in, day-to-day.

It doesn't stop there either. Kettlebell swings are also great cardio, and you can get a great workout in very little time.

There are a plethora of variations to the swing that you can try out, and program according to your needs and desires. I suggest you start with the basic ones (if you're a beginner) and work your way up to avoid injury.

Some of those basic variations (in order of difficulty) are

  • Two-Handed swing
  • One-handed swing
  • One-handed alternating swing
  • One-in-each-hand (2 Kettlebells) swing
  • Walking Swings


There are also other non-swing kettlebell exercises that are great additions, including grabs, snatches, and get-ups.

You can build a whole routine around kettlebells or incorporate them into your preexisting one. The convenience of kettlebell exercise also means they can be performed on the fly.

Just remember, as, with all the other workouts here, t pay attention to your limits.



Primal movement

Let me ask you something.

When was the last time you played?

I mean actually played, your computer or console don’t count

If you're like the rest of us, it is probably way further back than you can remember.

We often reminisce about our youthful days. We think about simpler times when we'd roll in the sand, climb trees and swing on monkey bars. All the while running, jumping, and laughing.

The times when messing around in the playground with the other kids wouldn’t earn you weird looks, or get the cops called on you.

We wish we could go back to those times, and perhaps enjoy them more. The fact that we’ve “grown out” of them, however, has taken a toll on our bodies and minds.

Primal, or animalistic movements, are a group of mobility exercises that take advantage of, as many anatomists agree, the more “natural” way of moving.

In other words, these exercises train your body to move in the way it was designed to move

Think about how as a baby you don’t need to learn how to crawl.

Rather, you learn how to walk.

how to reduce cortisol

That’s because the world today in all of its safety and civility was designed for a two-legged movement.

And as the saying goes, use it or lose it. By taking a look at the insane things primal movement practitioners are capable of, you can get an understanding of just how much we have lost.

Even for the more active of us, exercise is focused on lateral bipedal movements, such as, running in straight lines, jumping in straight lines, or simply banging out reps while static on the bench.

Exercising only like that is like buying a supercar but strictly driving it at 10 mph at all times.

Fortunately, by incorporating primal movements into our routines, we can “re-teach” our bodies how to move.

Not only is this a really fun way to exercise, but it is also highly effective in building what we should all yearn for. Functional strength.


Primal movements can do the following

  • Improve mobility
  • Improve flexibility
  • Increase range of motion
  • Decrease the chance of injury, especially later in life
  • Reverse the effects of the sedentary lifestyle
  • Improve body awareness
  • Burn fat
  • Tone Muscle
  • Bring a smile to your face


That last one isn’t even made up.

The primal movement falls under the “meditative” form of movement, which studies have shown to be able to reduce symptoms of ADHD, PTSD, improve your self-esteem and

You guessed it

Decrease your cortisol levels, how to lower cortisol levels.

This is all a bonus on top of the cortisol busting effects that physical exertion has on your body. It’s a double win.

So, which primal movements should you do exactly?

Well, honestly the world is your oyster.

While there are “recommended” movements, the whole point of this form of movement is listening to your body and doing what feels right.

My advice would be to start your journey with a trainer. They will help you learn about your body, reconnect with it, and help balance out any biases or bad movement habits.



If you don’t have access to a trainer, here are a few basic movements you can try on for size

  • Bear crawl
  • Crab walk
  • Frog jump
  • Dead bugs


Now they may look and sound silly, but don’t be fooled. These movements will wipe the floor with you (literally). It will take a while to get used to them even with a trainer

A quandary you might face with a trainer, especially in a class setting is being taken to maximal levels, rather than sub max.  So make sure you take care

So, what are you waiting for? Get on your hands and knees and have fun!




Yoga, much like primal movement, focuses on forming an intimate connection between you, and the only body you’ll be given in this lifetime.

Yoga also falls under the meditative movement category and is focused on movements (aka poses), breathing, and mindful awareness.

Being able to hold a pose takes not only focus but flexibility and static strength. As you build all three with practice, the benefits will carry over into your other exercises, and day to day life

It's difficult to picture a stressed-out yogi. For good reason.

how to lower cortisol


The controlled pace of yoga and its challenging poses force you to take your mind off your worries and focus on the task at hand. Maintaining this focus without getting distracted is also imperative, how to lower cortisol levels.

This effect is similar to what you strive for in meditation. And the cortisol busting effects of meditation deserve their own video.

Even though there are set poses, in the end all of our bodies are different, and progression to mastery of each pose will through different lengths of time, and different angles of approach.


Some of the more popular poses you may a have heard of are

  • Downward dog
  • Cat-cow
  • Child pose
  • Cobra
  • Plank
  • Bridge
  • Tree


As you can see, many popular static exercises are borrowed from yoga

When it comes to application, I'll again advise you to find a trainer.

Being trained either solo or in a class is simply the easiest and most effective way to advance your practice. With a well-certified trainer, it is also the safest and will prevent you from developing bad exercise habits.


Your trainer will know the difference between pain from weakness leaving and weakness entering the body.

Joining a class is also a great way to meet new people and socialize, which will also help bump down your cortisol

If you must go solo, or you don’t have any access to a trainer or class, there are a plethora of online resources on offer. This also works if you just want something light to add to your daily routine.


Special Mentions


Not only is dancing a good cardio workout but is fun, energetic and a surefire way to take your mind off things while learning new moves to bust at your next night out

Self-defense classes

Martial Arts can slip into this category, but self-defense has the added benefit of giving you the tools needed to build confidence in your ability to handle potential danger, reducing your day to day stress






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