Signs and Symptoms: Exercise Intolerance Among Causes of Fatigue

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


How Adrenal Fatigue Occurs

A woman tired from running which may be one of her causes of fatigueThe hormones in your body must be balanced in order to maintain energy levels, alertness, appropriate stress responses, mental health, and physical strength. If you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue, however, your hormones are out of balance. If you try to exercise, it can actually be one of the causes of fatigue and your body will react in several ways that may cause problems for those with Adrenal Fatigue. One of the most important is the release of norepinephrine and epinephrine; these help the body with aerobic exercises, keeping your heart rate up. Without norepinephrine and epinephrine you cannot stand up, never mind run. These two hormones are therefore critical for your daily activities as well as exercise.

Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline. Norepinephrine and epinephrine produce the “exercise high” that gets you through your workouts. The adrenaline helps your heart pump and increases the oxygenation of your blood. At the time you are exercising, you are not fatigued because your norepinephrine and adrenaline output is high. These hormones drive your body and give you energy to perform physical tasks. However, upon finishing your exercise, the levels of these hormones fall, and you often feel completely different.

Unfortunately, excessive or incorrect exercise can be harmful and become one of your causes of fatigue if you have Adrenal Fatigue. When the adrenals are already weak, exercising can add additional stress that further depletes the adrenals. Exercise uses up your body’s energy reserves. When the adrenals are weak and your body is already low on energy, exercise is like pouring gas on a fire. It leads to your body being completely burned out. The adrenal glands may be pushed beyond their limits, which can lead to a crash, if you are not careful with exercise.

As you exercise, whether running or weight lifting, your body usually releases the amount of adrenaline and norepinephrine that is necessary for the task at hand. Those with Adrenal Fatigue, however, face several potential problems. First, the control mechanism for the release of adrenaline may not be working properly, causing too much hormone to be released. This can feel good at first, but will leave you feeling drained—and not due to the physical exertion itself. The release of these hormones tapers off when exercise is completed. This takes a few hours, so initially you may feel fine, but in about half an hour to 3 hours after exercise, fatigue will begin. This is an indication that your energy reserves are low and that your adrenals might be struggling because the body is losing its reserves of norepinephrine and adrenaline.

One of the common causes of fatigue is the body’s inability to sustain itself after adrenaline has been used. Adrenaline is not an actual energy source—you need to eat food for your body to generate energy. Instead, your body is artificially supported by the temporary release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. In other words, adrenaline is a stimulant. When the level of adrenaline starts to drop in after exercise, the body will naturally compensate and continue to provide you with energy through your metabolism, energy stores, and nutritional reserves. However, when the adrenals are weak, metabolism slows, energy stores are low, and nutritional reserves are often also depleted. This can leave you feeling drained and exhausted. It can take 3 to 4 days to recover as your body builds back the reserves it lost during exercise. Such an “exercise crash” can be devastating to your health.

Exercise being one of the causes of fatigue for a woman asleep at her exercise machineA healthy person who engages in physical exercise that is not extreme will often feel invigorated long after exercising. People with Adrenal Fatigue, however, tend to be unable to tolerate exercise because they feel fatigued either right away or soon after exercise. Either the adrenals are not able to produce sufficient hormones to for the exercise itself, or the adrenals are unable to sustain the body afterwards.

Understanding the Causes of Fatigue Will Aid in Recovery

Understanding what is going on physiologically in your body is important. In particular, adrenaline is keeping you moving and your body is signaling depleting its reserves. Chronic stress overuses the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system, which is how your body uses all of its organs and systems to combat stress. Fatigue is often a symptom of issues in the hormonal circuit, which consists of the adrenals, thyroid, and reproductive organs. However, there are many causes of fatigue, and it’s important to rule out any other medical conditions. Although it is natural for those suffering from fatiguing conditions to use coffee, energy drinks, or other invigorating sources to prop up the body, if you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue, these may worsen your underlying condition. These are only temporary fixes that mask your causes of fatigue. They may give you more energy temporarily, but they will not address the causes of fatigue, so you will continue to deplete your reserves. What you actually need to do is find source of your causes of fatigue so that you can combat it.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

Each individual will experience different symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue. Here are some of the symptoms you might be experiencing:

  • Difficulty getting out of bed even after a good night’s rest
  • High levels of fatigue every day
  • Inability to handle stress
  • Craving salty food
  • Feeling extremely tired after just a little exertion
  • Weakened immune system

Some Things to Avoid

Here are suggestions for things you should avoid in order to battle your fatigue:

  • Over-exertion
  • Caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and processed carbohydrates
  • Staying up past 11 p.m.
  • Pushing yourself too far
  • Skipping meals
  • Feeling sorry for yourself

Conclusion

A woman looking pensive considering that exercise could be one of her causes of fatigueAlthough most people think that eating nutritious foods and exercising is the way to achieve good health, this might not be true for all bodies. Adrenal Fatigue sufferers must not over exert themselves as it can be one of the causes of fatigue and worsen the underlying condition. Proper, light exercise may help, but only if combined with a recovery strategy. It’s important to tackle the root cause of Adrenal Fatigue and not just cover up the symptoms by drinking more caffeine or taking stimulating supplements. Give your adrenals the nutrients and rest it needs and your whole body will start to pick itself back up.


© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Questions

Feeling better after exercise is generally a function of adrenaline being released into the body during exercise. Do be careful. As adrenaline wears off, energy slumps can occur. Many people have a crash after exercise and don’t know why.

During a week, you should spend 3-4 days a week of doing cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, jogging, swimming, biking. Do strengthening exercise 2-3 times. Lastly, you should also incorporate flexibility exercises 1-2 times per week.

A woman tired from running which may be one of her causes of fatigue

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Dr. Lam,
 
I have taken your supplements for 17 months now and I am recovering very well from AFS. I work full time, can do 90 minutes of power yoga, dance at a concert, have sex, go on a camping trip, etc. Crashes are rare and recovery is very fast. I have rebuilt my lost collagen, but not muscle mass. I am weak from not doing intense exercise.