Finding the right exercise for you in perimenopause is super important. Too much exercise or the wrong type of exercise for your body can result in chronically elevated cortisol. 


Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released by the adrenal glands (you have two and they sit on top of your kidneys) in response to events and circumstances such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress.

Over-stressing your body and your joints can result in high levels of cortisol, hunger spikes, chronic fatigue, and eventually, weight gain around the waistline.

So, it’s not about going to the gym three times a week and killing yourself on the treadmill or HIT sessions 7 days a week. Also it’s not a time to be over stressing joints when the decline of oestrogen weakens your bones.

Perimenopause is a time for exercising smart and building muscle.

Are you working out all the time and not seeing results? 

Do you experience any of the following? 

  • Like you're running on empty;
  • Increased appetite and cravings;
  • It’s hard to concentrate;
  • Bloated;
  • Fatigued;
  • You get sick a lot?

Then it could be that you are experiencing raised cortisol levels in your body. It’s important to note that no one is the same, everyone has different tolerance levels.

I like the analogy of the stress bucket and if your bucket starts to overflow that’s when problems start. Two people can work out the exact same and one might thrive and the other might start to see signs of raised cortisol levels.

Like most things in life cortisol is needed in balance as it has many important roles in the body.

For example, Cortisol:

  • Converts protein into glucose to boost flagging blood sugar levels;
  • Works in tandem with the hormone insulin to maintain constant blood sugar levels;
  • Reduces inflammation;
  • Contributes to the maintenance of constant blood pressure;
  • Contributes to a smooth functioning immune system.

As we mentioned, chronically elevated cortisol can cause weight gain along with reduced immunity and increases the risk of chronic disease.

So while we are in perimenopause and in a pro-inflammatory state it’s important to choose the right exercise for you to make sure you aren’t adding extra stress to your body causing more inflammation.

When you exercise, cortisol is released into the bloodstream to release blood sugar, so you have energy to exercise.

If you over exercise you release too much cortisol into your bloodstream and start to cause an imbalance in your blood sugar levels and develop insulin resistance (hormone that regulates blood sugar levels). If you want to learn more about the connection between insulin and cortisol read here.

How to reverse high cortisol levels

For a little while until your hormones are back in balance and your symptoms of raised cortisol disappear, I recommend taking out cardio and HIT classes.

Instead, focus on gentle workouts like pilates, yoga and exercises that focus on building muscle.

Your rest days are just as important as your workout days. On your rest days maybe have a gentle walk. Most people find that when they include rest days they see better results in their fitness levels and increased muscle mass.

If you would like to learn more, these two podcasts are a must...

By Dr Shannon Ritchey, she is a doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Evlo Fitness (She’s pretty awesome, her podcasts are very informative with loads of take-homes): Elevated cortisol: how it can hold you back, and how to workout to reduce chronic cortisol:

How To Exercise When You’re Stressed:

December 02, 2021 — Angela Greely

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