Managing the Impact of Chronic Stress on Fitness Goals

by Sarah FitnessComments: 14

By Fitness Editor Paula Jager, CSCS, owner of Crossfit Jaguar

Those of us familiar with the principles of Traditional Diet know how to eat right for optimum health and performance. We also don’t have to be a rocket scientist these days to know that the combination of weight lifting and high intensity anaerobic exercise combined with proper diet will improve our health and energy levels as well as make us very fit. Again, we must put forth effort and intensity.

Unfortunately, some of us are already doing all these things but are not experiencing the fitness related results we should be. If you are like many people whose diet is where it needs to be 80% of the time and are working correctly/intensely in the gym why aren’t the expected results occurring?

The answer could very well lie in your recovery or lack thereof.

More is not always better when it comes to exercise nor is the chronic stress many of us are under in the 24/7 world in which we live today. This world is far different than our ancestors and the occasional acute stress they were faced with.

We may have advances in medicine, communication and technology that they did not have and our lifespan is longer but the quality is diminished. They had to work very hard for their food, clothing and shelter; yet they did not work as long as we do. They had much more downtime.

Certainly most of us do not have to worry about being attacked by a wild animal or rival tribe but our day to day stressors are of greater frequency and duration.

Our stress is constant and unrelenting.

We have deadlines at work, pressures at home, most mothers today have 2 jobs instead of 1, many parents are single and technology has made us much less mobile. What does this combination do to our body?

Our body’s response to chronic stress is elevated cortisol levels. If our stress is not managed or handled correctly no matter how excellent our nutrition is or properly designed our workouts are we will derail our progress. How do we combat this modern day enemy?

In the words of best selling author Robb Wolf  “sleep ya big dummy!” It’s not only the quantity of our sleep but the quality. How many of you go to bed early enough and are in bed that full 7 to 9 hours of recommended sleep yet awake feeling unrefreshed? Still fatigued? Or you awaken in the middle of the night; mind racing unable to go back to sleep or you can’t fall asleep? You will feel as bad and your health as deleteriously affected as you would eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and not exercising. No, this is not a free pass to go get a donut and sit on the couch.

Some suggestions to combat public enemy #1 are to make sure your bedroom is pitch black; no light coming in from anywhere. That includes TV’s, digital clock radios, computers, any type of LCD monitor–you want it pitch black. I had streetlight glaring in through my blinds. This issue was 85% resolved with black out curtains. Pick up a stylish pair at Bed Bath & Beyond or a similar place and sweeten your dream time. Once you get the room pitch black adhere to these pre-bedtime rules. . .

  • No television, scary or violent movies prior to falling asleep.
  • Eating late at night will bother some people, pay attention to how this affects your sleep.
  • Do not exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.
  • Do not ingest refined carbohydrates late at night (or at anytime for that matter).
  • Avoid caffeine, and alcohol–while it might put you under I can assure you it will affect your sleep usually waking you between the hours of 1 and 4 am.
  • Shift workers–do the best you can

Aim for 8 to 9 ½ hours of sleep a night. There are a select few that can get by on less but they are not the norm. Shorten your commute to work if possible, work less and love what you do or make some changes, include time with family and friends, exercise enough to keep your glutes firm and your blood lipids in range but not so much you burnout and make a bad situation worse.

Awaken without an alarm clock or if that is not an option at least get one with music or sounds of nature as opposed to a loud blaring beep, go to bed when the sun goes down and get up with it.

If not resolved, what are the cumulative effects of this chronic stress? Suppressed immune function, chronically elevated blood sugar levels, decreased insulin sensitivity and decreased libido. If improved health is not enough to motivate you what about looking good? If you do not sleep you put a screeching halt to your fat loss, increase your chances of sickness and diabetes and get old and wrinkled before your time.

Manage your stress and sleep and take your efforts in the gym and life overall to the next level. In simpler terms, “sleep ya big dummy!”

About the Author

Paula Jager CSCS and Level 1 CrossFit and CF Nutrition Certified is the owner of CrossFit Jaguar.

Her exercise and nutrition programs yield life changing results.

She can be reached at



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Comments (14)

  • Daniela

    What if you are a mother of a young child? There are not many solutions in this instance. I have aged ten years since my baby was born two years ago and last night was the first night in which I slept all the way through till the morning in over two years (because my daughter had fever and slept through the night and I took a large teaspoon of “natural calm” magnesium to help stop me from waking up in the night which I do even if my daughter sleeps through the night because I am so used to it).

    March 7th, 2013 2:39 pm Reply
  • Pingback: Ultrametabolism Chapter 10, Subdue Stress, Part 2-Learning How to Get Our Adrenals to Calm Down | hisgraceissufficienthealth

  • Melissa

    I read this article (and really enjoyed it) and looked at the “you may might also like” section and read an article about changing WHEN you drink coffee. I lost that article and would love to read it again. Can you help me find it again? Thanks!

    February 26th, 2013 7:03 pm Reply
  • Dayna

    I know that I really need to work on managing my stress level. Does anyone know of some good resources to help with that? I exercise and eat according to WAP guidelines. I just still feel “uptight” all the time.

    February 26th, 2013 5:18 pm Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    I actually hate “working out” .. I love to be active though and enjoying one’s physical activities is the key to being consistent over the long haul.

    February 26th, 2013 3:28 pm Reply
  • Sarah

    This post recommends a lot of things that are major habit changes for a lot of people, many things that fall into that “easier said than done” category. I just listened to a fabulous podcast by the guy who developed a free 5 day course called tiny It really seems to be helping people make some major lifestyle changes and perhaps would be beneficial for people trying to destress their lives. Check it out, it’s pretty cool.

    February 26th, 2013 1:50 pm Reply
    • Dayna

      Sounds interesting. I signed up for the next session.

      February 26th, 2013 5:24 pm Reply
  • Daisy

    I went years in this depeleted condition. Working with a physicians assistant who specialized in women’s health issues, I took some bio-identical hormones for a few months. This enabled the long sought after sleep I had not had in many years.

    I had done all the right things, like room darkening, changes to diet and exercise. But when my cortisol and dhea levels were tested I was at rock bottom. And at 2am I would get a major adrenaline spike that would jolt me awake and then keep me awake for hours.

    Once my hormones were a little more stabilized I was able to rest properly and the changes that I had made to my diet and movement started to (and continue to) pay off.

    I hate the gym too! Walking and yoga for me. I used to sprint when I was younger (in my 60’s now).

    Thanks for such a terrific website, Sarah.

    February 26th, 2013 12:13 pm Reply
  • Mary MacDonald via Facebook

    Well, you’re in enviable shape. Goes to show you don’t need a gym membership.

    February 26th, 2013 12:44 pm Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    I hate the gym. Just me.

    February 26th, 2013 11:56 am Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    I walk, sprint and do yoga.

    February 26th, 2013 11:55 am Reply
  • Sarah Smith

    Thanks for this article. It is also important for people to know that if they are experiencing lots of adrenal fatigue problems, they may need to STOP EXERCISING ALTOGETHER for a few months in order to give their bodies enough time to recover.

    After doing GAPS for about 5 months, I started having severe lethargy and other adrenal symptoms. It took me awhile to realize that tabata workouts, sprints, and any strength training (even body weight) actually made me feel worse and worse.

    If I did any intense exercise, such as strength training, sprinting, or interval training, the next day I would be absolutely exhausted and very irritable. Exercising also caused my basal body temperature to plummet, which is another sign of too much stress on the body and overworked adrenals. I stopped all exercise for a few months, and this was tremendously beneficial to my adrenal health.

    During this time, I also made a concentrated effort to get more sleep, lower my stress levels, and eat more carbs (and especially ice cream). (Low-carb diets can actually make adrenal problems worse, as in my case.) Then I started to gradually add in very mild exercise, such as yoga and walking. Initially, even those forms of exercise were too much for my body! Over time, I was able to work back up to strength training as well.

    I wrote more about this whole process here:

    February 26th, 2013 11:53 am Reply
  • Mary MacDonald via Facebook

    Sarah, what is your exercise regimen?

    February 26th, 2013 11:34 am Reply

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