Mini-Review: Effect of exercise on cortisol synthesis, release, metabolism, and clearance

Document Type : Review Article


Faculty of Medicine/Endocrinology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada


Cortisol is a glucocorticoid, synthesized in response to the action of adrenocorticotropic releasing hormone (ACTH) on adrenal glands (AG) and released from zona fasciculata.  Increased cortisol is associated with psychological and physical stress. Several strategies have been used in the past to overcome stress in an athletic and healthy population. Among these strategies, exercise has been shown to beneficial for the management of stress. However, it is unknown if these benefits are due to the direct effect of exercise on cortisol levels.  In this brief review, we have outlined the benefits of exercise and how exercise in previous literature has shown to affect cortisol levels in two ways. First, by directly activating the hypothalamus-pituitary axis (HPA) and second, by releasing ACTH which acts on AG and stimulates the release of cortisol.  This mini-review will discuss the effects of type of exercise (aerobic and resistance) on cortisol synthesis and release, metabolism, and clearance.