Here in New York — the land of the Type-A personality — I see a lot of patients who jump into their workout routine at the same high level they do everything else, hitting the gym every day like a pro athlete possessed. That is, until they arrive at my office in a virtual heap, dragged out, depleted, and suffering from inflammation and symptoms of adrenal fatigue, including exhaustion, body aches, brain fog, irritability, moodiness, feeling overwhelmed, and frequent cravings for sweet and/or salty foods.
The trouble is, when you add a heavy-duty exercise program to a day-to-day routine that’s already brimming with work stress and family responsibilities, you’re likely doing more harm than good. You hit what I call the “spent” stage.
I’m not saying ditch the workouts. But I do recommend doing them without fanning the flames of chronic inflammation and undermining your adrenal health.
Here are a few thoughts on how to approach exercise with a little more wisdom:
Cool Your Jets
Whether you’re a gym rat or a more modest 3x/week workout enthusiast, those “spent” symptoms like exhaustion and brain fog are your body’s way of telling you it needs more recovery time. So, listen to your body and take down the intensity and duration a few notches. Remember, over-exercising increases your body’s production of its primary energy hormone, cortisol, which in turn boosts inflammation, so skip the hour-long treadmill sessions. These types of workouts are not only time-consuming, they’re a case study in the law of diminishing fitness returns, increasing the risk of injuries as well. All that wear and tear on muscles and joints can hobble you for weeks and months at a time and set you up for chronic problems down the line.
Work Out Smarter — Not Harder
Instead of punishing, full-throttle regimens, I recommend a more moderate approach, like a variation on interval training where you exercise for a minute at high intensity and then switch to a very easy pace for the next minute and keep alternating back and forth for the duration of the 30-40 minute session. With this type of training, you’re teaching your body to recover by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system with the high-intensity work, then stimulating the parasympathetic system with the relaxed stuff. Another way to do it smarter? Invest in some sessions with a trainer or physical therapist to put you through your paces, correct your form — and help keep you from overdoing it!
Train Your Body to Recover
Recovering quickly — whether it’s from illness or toxins or just everyday stress — is key to good health over the long haul. So when you work out, give your body the time it needs to bounce back completely. If you are exercising several times a week, work out a different muscle group each session to spread the wealth. If you start catching a lot of colds or are feeling exhausted after your workouts, ease up a bit, and add in a rest day every other day to give your body more time to recover.
Find Your Exer-Bliss
Everyone is different but, in general, most people are better off with a moderate workout three to five times a week instead of going for the full-throttle weekend warrior option. The exercise you choose is up to you, based on your goals and what your body is able to tolerate without triggering symptoms of overtraining. My go-to exercises are cycling (preferably outdoor) and yoga. For me, as I get older, I prefer the gentler types of yoga styles, but you might like the more vigorous types. I’m also a big fan of restorative yoga, especially when I feel tired or run down.
Eat Well to Keep Adrenals Happy
If you want to keep your adrenals happy, avoid sugar and caffeine. Instead, focus on healthy fats — think olives, avocados, fatty fish, and nuts — and use Himalayan or Celtic sea salt, which supply the body with a proper balance of sodium and chloride and many trace minerals. These all support adrenal health. (Read this for more on the benefits of high-quality salt.)