Does Walking Raise Your Cortisol And Cause Weight Gain?

Does Walking Raise Your Cortisol And Cause Weight Gain?

Back in 2014, I got a question from a viewer named James, and I answered it on my YouTube channel. The question was about whether or not walking was bad for you. Here’s what James asked…

“I’m not sure if you talk about this, but I know I’ve read about long cardio workouts…that they are stress on the body, so you make more cortisol, so you store more belly fat. But every so often… maybe once a week or so, I like to go for a good, long three-hour walk. So, is this walking causing too much stress for my body?” 

I though that this was a great question so I decided to answer it here.

The Short Answer Is That Walking Is Not The Problem

Low-intensity exercise like walking or hiking is quite different from medium-intensity cardiovascular exercise.

Things like walking, hiking, and bodyweight exercises are things that every human being with proper use of their body should be able to do. A long, brisk walk can do all sorts of good things for your body.

It’s the same for any kind of low-intensity type of exercise.

  • Walking or light hiking strengthens and conditions your heart.
  • Low-intensity exercise can help you to maintain a healthy weight or even lose weight if you do it for a long enough period of time, and you’re eating a balanced diet without an overload of calories.
  • Walking or light hiking can make both your bones and your muscles stronger because of the constant movement.
  • Bodyweight training and resistance exercises can help to relieve stress and keep you in a great mood.
  • Walking and light hiking can help your overall coordination and balance get better with time.

These benefits are all the exact opposite of what happens in your body when you participate in medium-intensity exercise. Let me explain what I mean.

What Is Medium-Intensity Cardio, Anyway?

Medium-intensity cardiovascular exercises include things like jogging and long-distance running. Additionally, these kinds of workouts include any type of exercise where you’re exerting yourself enough to sweat and to feel like you’re actually burning some real calories.

You can mostly carry on a conversation while participating in medium-intensity exercise, but your words are going to come out pretty breathy. Medium-intensity workouts are not like high-intensity workouts where you can’t talk at all and where you are exerting yourself to your greatest capacity.

Instead, medium-intensity exercise is the kind of exercise that many health professionals recommend we do a few times per week, but I’d like to counter that recommendation with a few facts about the human body.

Now, be warned: this might fly a little in the face of what you’ve previously heard or read, but stick with me for a minute.

I’m going to help you understand why medium-intensity workouts are harming your ability to easily lose weight and keep that weight off, permanently and why you should probably walk and do other forms of moderate exercise, instead.

Did You Know That All Exercise Is A Little Stressful?

Stressful Exercise

Most of the time, when you exercise, your body releases a certain amount of cortisol. This is especially true when it comes to high intensity workouts and long sessions of medium-intensity workouts. In fact, the harder you workout, the more cortisol your body releases as a form of self-protection.

Now, if you don’t know what cortisol is, let me explain it.

Cortisol is, quite simply, a stress hormone. In times of “fight or flight,” your body produces a lot of cortisol to help it deal with what it perceives to be overwhelming situations.

Cortisol is absolutely critical to our survival as human beings…but there’s something important to understand about how it works in our body today versus how it was designed to work in times past.

See…here’s the thing…

Our Bodies Don’t Understand That We Live In Modern Times

As far as your body is concerned, it’s still primitive times, and when there is a stress reaction for just about any reason from over-exercise to a real threat in your life, your body produces cortisol to help you either fight your “enemy” or get away from the stressor as quickly as possible.

This is the essence of what fight or flight is.

Cortisol does a number of things in your body:Cortisol

  • It wakes you up and KEEPS you up in the event of a continued threat.
  • It helps you preserve fat in case you can’t get to food quickly.
  • It mutes your feelings of happiness/satisfaction so that you’re on high alert.
  • It keeps you focused on the present so that you’re hyper-aware. This has a marked effect on your short-term memory. Over time, cortisol can affect on your long-term memory, too.
  • If keeps you from having to relieve your bowels too frequently.  The reason for this is because, in the event of a real threat, having to go to the bathroom would slow you down and keep you from getting away from your “enemy.”

I could go on and on about what cortisol does to your body, but I think you can see the effects plainly, right here.

When you add the normal stress of either high-intensity exercise or medium-intensity exercise to the lifestyle of the average Western employee, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Most people who live in the West are already stressed out because of work, overweight, lack of rest, and relational concerns.

When they try to lose weight and mitigate one of their concerns with high-intensity or medium-intensity exercise, the vast majority of them find no relief…and here’s why.

Cortisol Keeps You Stuck

For the average person, they don’t do enough high intensity exercises to see a benefit. They might do high intensity workouts two or three times per week.

On the other hand, those who choose medium-intensity exercise often decide to do it daily.

The problem with both of these exercise types is that they cause too much cortisol to be produced in their bodies – in addition to the cortisol ALREADY being produced in their daily lives!  

Basically, they never see results from their exercise.

  • They can’t sleep at night and rarely feel rested when they wake up in the morning.
  • They have belly fat that just won’t go away.
  • They can’t reach their target weight, no matter how hard they workout.
  • Their memories get poorer and poorer as time goes along.
  • Many of them suffer from depression, and they can’t figure out why when they are doing all the “right” things.  This can lead to deeper depression.
  • Some of them suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or chronic constipation, even though they eat relatively healthily.
  • Their blood pressure is higher when they think that their activity means that it should be lower.

All of these symptoms are a result of having too much cortisol in the body.

See, when you do high-intensity exercises for 7-10 minutes, your body is flooded with cortisol because it’s put under a high amount of stress. That cortisol doesn’t go away after working out because MORE cortisol is produced throughout the week from work, relationship issues, and other life concerns.

That’s just the start of the problem.

When you switch it up and do 30 minutes to an hour of medium-intensity exercise, your body is also flooded with cortisol. It’s like you can’t win for losing!

Medium intensity workouts that are 30-60 minutes are just as stressful as high intensity workouts that last for just 7-10 minutes…and the results are exactly the same for the average person.

Your body views both of these types of exercise as stress-inducing.

When you add the average person’s stressful life to a type of exercise that that creates cortisol on top of cortisol, you’re going to find that you have a really hard time losing weight and living your best life, possible.

Here’s What You Should Do, Instead

Now, I am not foolish enough to recommend that you quit going to your favorite cross training class.

That’s insane. NO!

Instead, what I recommend is that you give your body a lot of variety and a lot of rest in your workout schedules. People don’t really understand that the body needs rest as much as it needs to exercise.

See, in the Western way of thinking, we believe that more is better when the exact opposite is true.

Less is actually more. You don’t need to stress your body out to lose weight, and you don’t need to push yourself to your highest physical capacity to look and feel your best.

Walking Is 100% Beneficial For Everyone Who Can Do So

Low intensity

I encourage everyone out there to walk as much as they can, because it’s low-stress. I also recommend that people use other types of low intensity exercises because they doesn’t produce cortisol the way that high-intensity and medium-intensity workouts do.  

In fact, low-intensity exercising is relaxing, so if you take a long walk, it’s going to help you to burn fat more quickly than most other workout types will simply because it’s lowering the amount of cortisol in your body.

That’s what I shared with James, and that is what I want to share with you, today.

The bottom line is that the best kind of exercise is one that doesn’t exacerbate any of the societal stressors that we all face from day to day.


The Garage Warrior



  1. “Why You May Need To Exercise Less.” Kresser, Chris. Jan. 27, 2012.
  2.  Fitzgerald, Matt. Jul. 31, 2014.
  3. “Walking: Trim Your Waistline, Improve Your Health.” Mayo Clinic Staff. Mar. 19, 2016.
  4. “10 Signs You Have Way Too Much Cortisol.” Rankin, Lissa. Jun 6, 2013.