Earlier this week I had a conversation with my trainer about my weight loss progress. Things have been moving along well and in spite of the occasional lapse in proper eating, I’m still losing weight. However, it feels as though it’s happening at a slower rate than before. Her suggestion? Stop running so much.
She went on to say that running produces a hormone that, in essence, when produced in large amounts can cause you to have issues losing weight and may even cause weight gain. Being that I trust her opinion…and that I wanted to take it easy this week with the Atlantic City April Fools Half Marathon coming up on April 7th, I decided to rest for most of last week. Per her suggestion I just went on a couple of walks…leisurely walks at that. It was kinda nice, kinda refreshing, and by the end of the week with the weather getting warmer I was very much looking forward to my Sunday run today.
But still I wondered…how could running less help me to lose weight? So in my true fashion I decided to do a little research. Apparently my trainer was saying that running produces a this hormone called cortisol….cortisol is a blood pumping stress enducing adrenaline raising kinda hormone. Like anything, too much of it can be a negative. As in…too much cortisol production can lead to crankiness and weight gain. So she surmised…since I run a lot…I’m probably producing too much cortisol…which inhibits my weight loss progress…ergo I should take a break periodically to reduce excess production of the hormone…thereby assisting in the weight loss process. Basically…run less to weigh less. If it sounds counterintuitive to you, no worries – sounds the same way to me too.
Cortisol itself is meant to give us the energy boost we need to make it through stressful situations. Exercise is a stressor on the body, in that it challenges and pushes us to go beyond our normal resting state of being. In my readings, it seems as though cortisol itself is released in dosages that are appropriate to the amount of stress you put on yourself. But the funny thing is…the more training you do, the more your body becomes accustomed to that stress. Think of it this way…maybe when you first started running, a 5k was a really difficult distance for you to handle (more stress = more cortisol to deal with the stress), but now you can easily run those and have even increased your mileage. How? Because you’ve trained yourself to handle that distance and likewise the stress associated with it, which means the same levels of cortisol you used to produce for that same activity have now decreased as your body isn’t as stressed while doing it.
Where cortisol and its overproduction can become an issue is when we are in chronic states of stress on a regular basis. Which, if you think about it, these days most of us are. Working too much or too hard, not getting enough sleep, overtraining, not allowing yourself to properly recover…all of those things and more can attribute to stress levels. I firmly believe that the day that running becomes a mental stress for me would be the day I would need to re-evaluate why I run in the first place. There are a lot of instances in which we can become stressed and that blood gets pumping and the adrenaline flowing to deal with whatever is challenging us. But when it comes to running specifically, if you are constantly going hard and potentially overtraining yourself, you can put yourself at risk for a great number of things: injury, fatigue (physical and mental), and yea even the production of too much cortisol (which, by the way, can make you super cranky too). Not a good place to be right?
In my VERYnonmedicalSTRICLTYpersonal opinion…I think that too much of anything can be a bad thing eventually. Cortisol and its effects aside, too much running can cause a great number of issues if recovery breaks are not taken regularly and if it is not supplemented with some kind of cross training. Cortisol itself is meant to be the body’s way of dealing with stressful situations. I don’t know about you, but I have a number of stressful situations that occur on a daily basis…and that’s before I even lace up my running shoes! Running happens to be my exercise of choice, and I know that this year in particular I have set some pretty audacious goals for myself…rather than overdo it, I’m going to approach it intelligently. Meaning, cross training, resting, and taking a few days off from running on a regular basis. There are a number of things that we can all do to reduce stress (and ergo cortisol production) in our lives. Here are just a few:
- Get an appropriate amount (7-8 hours) of sleep on a regular basis
- Meditate or begin some other practice of mindfulness (yoga is GREAT for this)
- Taking supplements like fish oil, vitamin B, rhodiola, vitamin C, ginseng, zinc, magnesium to help lower cortisone levels.
- Don’t overcommit – it’s ok to say no and set your boundaries. We aren’t meant to do it all.
- Go easy on the coffee (again, moderation).
For more reading, check out the following:
- The Cortisol Switcheroo
- How to Reduce Cortisol for Weight Loss
- How to Lower Cortisol and Burn Fat
- Debunking Chronic Cardio
- Exercise and Cortisol Levels
Happy (and healthy) running!