It’s true, not all people that exercise lose weight at the same degree, or get the full extent of benefits you expect from exercise. For some, the mood, sleep and weight improve with little effort, yet for others, there is barely any progress. One important underlying reason why people do not get the full benefit from exercise is an elevated level of the hormone cortisol. This article will explain the importance of cortisol and reducing the effects of stress, so you can better benefit from your exercise routine.

What is cortisol and how does it affect you?

Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands in response to stress. It is considered a deep-acting stress hormone which allows your body to cope during bouts of stress. Cortisol makes glucose more available for your body to use and temporarily raises your blood pressure which is designed to help you in short term stressful situations. However, if cortisol stays elevated, it can have devastating effects on your health and ability to function properly. When your cortisol stays elevated it keeps your blood pressure elevated, suppresses thyroid hormone activation, promotes insulin production (which can sabotage your ability to lose weight) and sugar cravings and reduces your libido and sleep quality.

How do you decrease cortisol in your body?

I have described a few strategies to reduce elevated cortisol

1. Yoga

This practice has been found to reduce cortisol levels. In one study conducted on pregnant women, cortisol levels significantly reduced after a yoga course, and levels of post-partum depressed mood decreased compared to the control group. The study appeared in the May 2014 issue of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.

2. Herbs

A variety of herbs have cortisol reducing effects. For example, ashwagandha is an Asian herb that has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol and stress. A study was performed on 64 adults with chronic stress and found that ashwagandha herbal extract significantly reduced the level of cortisol and significantly reduced their stress scores. Other herbs that likely benefit include rooibos, chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm and holy basil.

3. Stop smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.

Both smoking and alcohol have been shown to increase cortisol levels.

4. Regular sleep.

It’s true, sleep can get you better exercise results. People who suffer with poor quality or low amounts of sleep often have elevated cortisol levels. If you are having a difficulty sleeping, try to make a calming and relaxing routine before bed, take a relaxing herbal tea an hour before bed. While in bed, do some easy breathing exercises and focus your thoughts on encouraging a relaxed body and expecting a good night’s sleep. Of course, turn off the distractions such as lights and noises and wear a pair of socks if you have cold feet.

young beautiful woman sleeping in bed in dark bedroom

About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or