Exercise and adrenaline

I keep asking my bf to take me hiking because I know it will reduce my stress. Hiking reduces stress mainly by balancing our adrenaline and cortisol and increasing our endorphins.

Let’s talk about adrenaline.

Adrenaline is a hormone your body produces to help you prepare for danger. It originates from the adrenal glands, which are located on top of your kidneys, enters the bloodstream from there, and gets distributed to the organs.

Adrenaline makes your heart beat faster, speeds up your breathing, slows down your digestion, and otherwise prepares you to run from the danger or fight it (“fight or flight” response).

People often say that “exercise reduces adrenaline”, but it is more accurate to say that exercise leads to short-term adrenaline spikes, which helps to lower sensitivity to adrenaline in the long term.

Long exposure to adrenaline is unhealthy and can lead to heart damage, insomnia, pancreas and liver problems, to name a few. On the other hand, short spikes of adrenaline, like the type exercise causes, are actually good for our bodies.

  • First of all, the physical effects of adrenaline wear off your body long term but strengthen it short term. Increased heart rate, for example, is harmful to your heart long-term, but all that oxygen it pumps into your muscles helps strengthen them. Adrenaline facilitates the breakdown of sugar and fat, which is essential for a healthy metabolism.
  • Second, exercise keeps your adregenic receptors healthy. It is not enough for the body to merely produce adrenaline – to make use of it, it needs to bind to adregenic receptors. It is not enough to be in the water to stay hydrated, you need to open your mouth and drink it. The receptors are basically the mouth with which your body drinks adrenaline (or other substances, for that matter).

The less sensitive the receptors are, the less effect adrenaline (and stress) has on us.

As a general rule, it is best for receptors to be exposed to their chemical regularly but not constantly. If there’s too much exposure, receptors become less sensitive (“desensitize”) and don’t react appropriately when they need to. Think “crying wolf”.

If there’s too little exposure, receptors can become overly sensitive, and nothing good comes out of it either.

  • Moreover, like I said before, *long-term* exposure to adrenaline is unhealthy. It is supposed to rush into our organs quickly and then get metabolized just as quickly. When we are chronically stressed, however, adrenaline lingers in our body for longer, causing all the bad effects. Exercises uses up of all that accumulated adrenaline. Ever felt super relaxed after a workout? That’s the reason.

Read more on the effects of an adrenaline rush here.

Overexercising can lead to adrenal fatigue. Read about it here.

A useful paper:

St-Pierre, D. H., & Richard, D. (2020). The effect of exercise on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Endocrinology of physical activity and sport, 41-54.

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