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Menopause Fitness Moment: Importance of Shorter Workouts

belly fat cortisol fitnessinmenopause menopausefitness menopausesupport Mar 09, 2022
menopause fitness, cortisol, belly fat

When I tell people that I keep my workouts to roughly 40 minutes, I always get a surprised look. They assume that because I’m a fitness pro and love strength training, I surely must spend more time working out. Well, I don’t, and I’m going to tell you why and why keeping your workouts shorter during the menopausal transition might be one of the best things you can do. 


Cortisol is the main reason why I keep my workouts short. To understand why cortisol is so important, you should have a fundamental understanding of what it is and what it does (I promise to keep it very low-nerd). Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It is one of the essential hormones in the body because it touches every other system. Cortisol is naturally higher in the morning and tapers down as the day goes on. However, when the body remains under constant stress, cortisol levels remain high regardless of the time of day.  

Effects of high cortisol

  • Reduced libido
  • Mood changes
  • Depressive or anxious thoughts
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Short-term memory issues
  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of menstrual cycle

Cortisol and Exercise

When the body feels stress or anxiety, it releases cortisol. Exercise is one of those stressors because it results in increased energy demand.  Two factors that impact the release of cortisol during exercise are intensity and duration. Exercise bouts that last longer than roughly 40 min can increase cortisol. Findings from one study show that high-intensity exercise increases cortisol levels. Doing a very high-intensity workout if you’re already stressed is like adding fuel to the fire you are trying to put out.

Cortisol and Menopause

Estrogen helps the body counteract some of the adverse effects of cortisol. However, as estrogen decreases, so do its cortisol-fighting superpowers. This means that if your body could handle some of the excess day-to-day stress before, it may not be able to handle it quite as well now. In addition, increased cortisol levels play a significant role in increased belly fat, which is one of the most reported symptoms of menopause. If you want to read more about how cortisol affects belly fat and strategies to help, check out this article I wrote a while back. 

The bottom line is that during menopause, your body is already under a lot of stress. So, adding strategies that can help minimize chronic stress levels and cortisol spikes can play a significant role in symptom management – one of those strategies can be shorter workouts. So, give it a try, and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you.