This article, “Exercising with adrenal fatigue,” was first written for a blog I previously owned. I am not reposting it today because I need a filler but rather because I feel this information bears repeating. I am acquainted with many individuals who struggle with varying degrees of adrenal exhaustion. While not as extreme as some other ailments, for those afflicted by it—most often females—adrenal fatigue is no walk in the park.
It is difficult to tend to daily tasks when we lack energy.
Since the focus of this month Happiness Project is Energy, I felt it fitting to repost this article. I hope you glean some wisdom from it.
Exercising with Adrenal Fatigue
Exercising with adrenal fatigue is a delicate subject. However, before I delve further into this very issue, let me give you some personal background—I will try to keep this brief.
I must preface I am not a physician. While I was a personal fitness coach at one point, I never practiced as one. What I share below is my story and the lessons I gleaned from it. **This article is in no way medical advice and it should not be construed as such.
Back in 2011-2012, if you’d asked me if I was healthy, I would have said yes! I was in my early 40s. I worked out regularly with programs such as P90x. In three months, I had gone from “not only can’t I run, but I also hate running” to training for—and finishing—a half marathon. I was fit! I was the definition of healthy…right?
I was not healthy although didn’t know it. By all appearances, I was lean, fit and rosy-cheeked. The problem is: health is not just an outward phenomenon.
Did I have symptoms?
In hindsight, yes I did: low blood pressure, low body temperature, and being cold much of the time. I chalked every symptom up to just being me since these were issues I had had for years. I was still able to function, so no problem. What an inaccurate, misinformed assumption.
My body was talking. However, I wasn’t listening.
After running the half marathon in March of 2012, I started having some physical issues; pains here and there. A couple of months later, I tore a muscle in my calf while working out which rendered me unable to exercise while it healed.
Upon resuming exercise, I realized I tired quickly and got winded too easily. Moreover, I was often dizzy—an event which increased in frequency and intensity.
All these “small” events came to a head in the Spring of 2014. After a bike ride with my husband, we were in a grocery store when—as a total fluke—I decided to take my blood pressure: 78/56. Oooookaaaaay, I knew I had low blood pressure, but even for me, this was extreme.
There was more: I was just “blah” all the time. I wasn’t myself anymore, and everyone noticed. This may sound cliché nevertheless, even smiling was tiring. Everything had become a chore of epic proportion. I had an overwhelming sense of not feeling right in my skin.
I decided to see a naturopath who, after sending me to donate what seems to be a considerable amount of blood—and for someone who hates needles this was not easy—promptly diagnosed me with hypothyroidism due to extreme adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue had been mentioned back in 2000. I was under an enormous amount of stress after the passing of my daughter. However, the diagnosis didn’t mean much to me at the time. I took it as “you are tired.” Well duh, of course, I was tired, as well as under tremendous pressure, depressed, AND grieving. Normal reactions under the circumstances if you ask me. The adrenal issue would pass in time—or so I thought.
Ha! What a joke.
Time Marches On
Fourteen years later, my adrenals had not miraculously healed, my thyroid was affected, and I was now taking natural thyroid supplementation. With the medication, I felt better rather quickly and I—indeed—regained more energy. However, any form of exercise still had me tuckered. I took long naps. Going on a walk three days in a row for a measly 2.5 miles had me in bed! Eventually, I just gave up on exercise.
I shared with my physician that my ultimate goal was to heal and to be off the natural thyroid meds. She said it was possible yet, would take time and dedication. I saw another practitioner as well, and despite feeling better; I still could not exercise without having setbacks.
As time passed. I decided to become very serious about taking my power back. Up to this point, I had gone to someone and said: “tell me what is wrong with me and fix it.” My new way to view life was going to be “I may need your help to diagnose what is happening; nevertheless, I take full responsibility to heal me.”
By December 2015, still not exercising at all, I was off my natural thyroid supplementation. A small victory.
During the summer of 2016, I decided I was well enough to start slowly incorporating exercise into my life again. I started with light walking.
Exercise and Cortisol
Let’s take a slight detour and talk about cortisol for a moment.
Cortisol—a glucocorticoid also known as hydrocortisone—is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”
The adrenal glands manufacture cortisol, a production controlled by the HPA axis—hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenals. Almost all our organs contain cortisol receptors; which means cortisol affects many bodily functions. For example, cortisol has an effect on blood sugar levels, blood pressure, metabolism, bone density, and inflammation—just to name a few.
To the body, there is not good stress or bad stress, joyful events, as well as sad ones, are able to activate the stress response. Stress in itself is not “bad.” It only becomes a concern when it is recurring and/or constant.
Cortisol and Exercise
On the one hand, exercise—the right form, timing, and intensity—will increase the threshold of cortisol release over time. On the other hand, exercise—especially, intense forms of fitness—raise cortisol levels.
In short, this means that in individuals who have adrenal issues, physical training can be counterproductive—as I discovered.
On a side note, there are four stages of adrenal fatigue: stage 1 being the mildest form and stage 4 being the most extreme. Knowing where you stand on the spectrum may assist you in formulating a healing strategy with better-informed decisions about your daily stressors—including, but not limited to, fitness.
Exercising with Adrenal Fatigue: My Plan
Over time, I learned to listen to my body’s cues and to stop and rest when I needed to—even if this meant I did not exercise for a few days.
After light walking, I added Qi Gong to my regimen; I started with Seven Minutes of Magic, a video I found for free here. Later on. I then purchased Qi Gong for Stress as well as Qi Gong Flow for Beginners. I appreciate Lee Holden as a teacher. He’s not too “out there” for me. He is coherent with his explanations, calm, and professional in his demeanor. The DVDs are filmed in beautiful calming surroundings, and their quality is excellent. I highly recommend them.
When I felt stronger, in July, I started a regular workout routine by purchasing Dr. Lam’s Adrenal Yoga DVDs.
What I liked about the DVDs:
- They designed for individuals with adrenal fatigue.
- Dr. Lam begins by teaching proper breathing. The breath is the cornerstone of healing.
- The DVDs are incremental. Each lesson builds on the previous one. They start at about 30 minutes and go to over 60 minutes in length.
- Doctor Lam teaches that if a lesson becomes too difficult to perform, you should stay with the previous lesson until your body is ready to proceed.
- Dr. Lam’s instructions and clues are clear despite his accent which was not an issue for me at all.
What I did not like about the DVDs:
- The sound stinks. You hear the ocean—which is good— and the wind (not so good) as Dr. Lam speaks and give directions over the constant background noise.
Despite the poor sound quality, Adrenal Yoga was amazingly healing to me and the spearhead to start exercising again.
Go to Part II.
Sources for Exercising with Adrenal Fatigue:
- What Does Cortisol Do?
- Adaptation of the hypothalamopituitary adrenal axis to chronic exercise stress in humans.
- Acute Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal Responses to the Stress of Treadmill Exercise
- Mind And Body
- Why You May Need To Exercise Less
- Adrenal Fatigue and Over Exercising- Part 1
- Adrenal Fatigue and Over Exercising- Part 2
- Adrenal Fatigue and Over Exercising- Part 3