Exercising with Adrenal Fatigue

What is the best way to exercise if you have adrenal fatigue? Oftentimes circuit training is recommended, but this might actually make one worse. Let’s review a few simple concepts to guide your exercise if you have adrenal fatigue.

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Exercising with Adrenal Fatigue

Dr. Michael Ruscio: Hi. This is Dr. Ruscio. And recently a study and a group of researchers looked to see what kind of effects different types of exercise had on cortisol response. And what was very interesting is these researchers found that if you do pretty vigorous activity and have short rest intervals, like a circuit, that actually causes the most adrenal stress.

Now, why this is relevant is oftentimes a criticism of cardiovascular exercise, like running, jogging, is made for those that have adrenal fatigue, and rightfully so. Prolonged cardiovascular exercise that exceeds an hour is probably going to be pretty detrimental to this group of people.

However, the recommendation to do short, intense circuits is also not a good recommendation because this can cause overtraining, or overreaching as it’s termed in the research literature, that can essentially burn you out.

And so again, what this would look like would be that you might do some sort of CrossFit class or class at a gym or something where you just go from one exercise to the next to the next to the next. And you have minimal rest in between—10 seconds, 20 seconds.

And you work really hard for a short period of time. While this can be a very fun type of exercise and it can definitely give you some exhilaration, if you’re someone that’s struggling with adrenal fatigue, short rest periods in between your sets may provoke the adrenal fatigue.

So there are a couple things that may be helpful. Keep your exercise sessions well under an hour in terms of duration of the entire session. And if you can shoot for shorter—20 to 30 minutes—that’s not a bad idea. I would start shorter and work your way up.

The other would be to avoid short rest periods in between your sets. So you may do a set of something like an assisted pull up or a walking lunge or what-have-you. Between that set and your next set, you should have at least 60 seconds, if not longer.

And what you’re looking for is for your heart rate to come down essentially. If you keep doing these sets and you never have a chance to recover and your heart is just brrrrrr fluttering really, really fast, it’s adrenaline that helps stimulate the heart to beat really fast. So have these periods where you get your heart rate up. But let your heart rate come back down and recover. So 60 seconds, maybe longer depending on how hard what you’re doing for a set is.

Something else can be very helpful for people with adrenal fatigue—or one or two other things. Walking in nature has been shown to have tremendous health benefits. So if you can do nothing else, get yourself to nature nearby and go for a walk. Walking in nature has been shown—and specifically in forests—has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety; increase feelings of energy, vigor, and subjective well-being. So even something as short as a 15-minute walk in nature can be very powerful in terms of improving the way that you feel.

Something else that can be helpful is a tool called heart rate variability. And I’ll put a link in the transcript here to two episodes where exercise physiologist Dr. Mike T. Nelson came on our podcast and we discussed heart rate variability to help people determine if they’re overtraining. And also in a separate episode, we discussed specifically exercising with adrenal fatigue. So there are definitely a lot of pearls one can pull out of those two episodes or the two transcripts if they want some specifics.

But again on reiteration, don’t exercise for too long. Don’t exercise for over an hour. Be careful not to exercise too intensely, meaning that you have very short periods of rest in between your sets. And if you can do nothing else, walk in nature. And if you’re looking for a really helpful, objective tool, try something like heart rate variability that you can assess every morning and will tell you if you’re pushing yourself too hard.
So for those with adrenal fatigue, I hope this information helps you get healthy and get back to your life. Thanks!

Have adrenal fatigue and need help deciding how to exercise? Click here.

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

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