11

votes

Is cortisol elevated more through physical or psychological means?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created April 27, 2011 at 12:49 PM

I've been lurking here for a while and I've noticed that a common response to questions about belly pooches is "cortisol." From what I see here, on Mark's Daily Apple/Archevore/ other paleo-oriented websites, cortisol is elevated through stress that's both physical and psychological. The confusing part is that people are sometimes then told to reduce the HIIT and replace it with weight training, but I don't see how that works. I can see how the following scenarios work:

Lack of sleep - body is stressed due to lack of rest, cortisol rises

Crummy boss/workplace - cortisol rises as part of a fight-or-flight response

Enraged saber-toothed tiger ten inches from your butt - that's true fear.

HIIT - the heart rate rises, true, but a Crossfit metcon isn't necessarily a stressful situation. There's nothing life-or-death about it and I know that I can simply walk off mid-workout if I choose. There's no forced psychological component other than the self-imposed one. (Burpee penalties for quitting aren't true psychological stressors either.)

In weight training, the heart rate soars for brief(er) periods too, especially during sets. So theoretically that'd contribute to cortisol elevation too.

So, why does HIIT contribute to cortisol elevation but weight training doesn't? Is cortisol raised purely when the heart rate is elevated, regardless of the cause?

27e79ef3308bb5f2d7bd04ee7eea7b79

(2038)

on May 08, 2011
at 11:59 PM

alois71x, thanks for your response. Am I interpreting it properly to mean that tonysolo, above, is correct in saying that "cortisol" is a catch-all phrase for "we don't know?"

5e4cc7bd86ef9d7d1f750ad1430f8dfe

(0)

on May 06, 2011
at 11:22 PM

I am a doctor. I give patients with low blood pressure in the ICU steroids after I check and find a low cortisol level. Cortisol is biphasic. it has two peeks throught the day. In my opinion, I wouldn't waste much time worrying about cortisol levels. It is a precursor hormone for the most part before it gets split up into mineralcorticoids etc.... You can't really modify it, maybe make the peaks higher but, physiologically, don't waste your time.

27e79ef3308bb5f2d7bd04ee7eea7b79

(2038)

on April 28, 2011
at 03:55 PM

Could you shed some more light, Dr. K?

Medium avatar

(5639)

on April 27, 2011
at 07:19 PM

Becker, I've been wanting to reincorporate sprints into my routine too. For about a month I was doing sprint intervals on the treadmill about twice a week for 10 minutes at a time (2 min slow, 1 fast...) and I felt great. I find that I don't get as much of a sweat on when I only focus on lifts.

Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on April 27, 2011
at 05:16 PM

I've been wondering the same. I do heavy compound lifts at maximum effort three times a week, but I'd like to do some sprinting a couple of times a week. My own concern is the HIIT sprints would push me over the overtraining threshold and overelevate my cortisol.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25482)

on April 27, 2011
at 04:21 PM

Cortisol does a lot more than that

C33e8c236e72d67c4b6c028401d23cce

(1884)

on April 27, 2011
at 02:34 PM

This is a fantastic question. My suspicion is there still isn't enough research on the topic to give a definitive answer, but I'd love to see what more knowledgeable people have to say.

C2ad96801ec1e22d2bf62475b6e52751

(1416)

on April 27, 2011
at 01:34 PM

Excellent question. Mine is a more general concern that "cortisol" is Paleo for "we're not really sure." I'm looking forward to the responses; thanks for asking.

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2 Answers

1
3020fb359dfbedaf90f1611b036d3432

(1138)

on April 27, 2011
at 06:34 PM

Psychological stress is just as bad as physical stress, the physiological response is the same. The most important idea when discussing managing cortisol and stress is chronic vs. acute. Here's a clip from the master of the neurobiology of stress (and just an all around fantastic individual) Robert Sapolsky discussing this: sapolsky stress clip

1
Ab0369a70755bd07f44292b4ca8b2260

on April 27, 2011
at 02:58 PM

Cortisol is released when the brain senses a "fight or flight" response, both to emotional and physical stress.

Let's say you have a stressful desk job, your body may not release cortisol on a normal basis, but it will that day you suddenly realize you forgot to put together a report due in an hour???That panic, "oh crap," moment signals to your body that it's time to panic and cortisol is released.

In normal situations where the heart rate is elevated (maybe walking, weight lifting..depends on the person) if the body doesn't read it as "panic now!" then cortisol isn't released to come to the rescue. Often in HIIT, the body is pushed past what it can calmly endure. So the difference isn't the need for more oxygen or an elevated heart rate only???but the body's read that "it's time to panic."

Part of regulating cortisol is having a "relaxation" period after the stress, so I belive that is where the sleep comes in, but I suppose could also be controlled with mediation, yoga, taking the time to really come down and relax after a hard HIIT workout.

Just my thoughts on the matter.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25482)

on April 27, 2011
at 04:21 PM

Cortisol does a lot more than that

27e79ef3308bb5f2d7bd04ee7eea7b79

(2038)

on April 28, 2011
at 03:55 PM

Could you shed some more light, Dr. K?

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