Role of psychological stress in cortisol recovery from exhaustive exercise among elite athletes

  • Frank M. Perna
  • Sharon L. McDowell


Life-event stress (LES) was used to classify elite athletes (n = 39) into high-and low-LES groups. A repeated measures analysis of variance revealed higher Cortisol concentration after a graded exercise test among the high-LES group relative to the low-LES group, which was maintained for up to 20 hr. Subsequent prospective analyses further indicated that high-LES athletes were more likely to be symptomatic than low-LES athletes and that elevated Cortisol level was positively correlated with symptomatology. To the extent that Cortisol is a marker of exercise recovery in competitive atbletes, our results suggest that chronic stress prolongs the recovery process, which may potentially widen a window of susceptibility for illness and injury among competitive athletes.

Key words

life-event stress Cortisol elite athletes graded exercise test symptoms recovery 


  1. Anderson, M. B., & Williams, J. W. (1986). A model of stress and athletic injury: Prediction and prevention.Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology.10. 294–306Google Scholar
  2. Armstrong, R. B. (1986). Muscle damage and endurance events,Sports Medicine, 3. 370–381.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armstrong, R. B., Warren, G. L., & Warren, J. A. (1991), Mechanisms of exercise-induced muscle fibre injury.Sports Medicine, 3. 184–207.Google Scholar
  4. Barron, J. L., Noakes, T. D., Levy, W., Smith, C., & Millar, R. (1985). Hypothalamic dystunction in overtrained athletes.Journal of Clinical Endocrinology Metabolism.60. 803–806.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Borg, G. A., & Noble, B. J. (1974). Perceived exertion. In J. H. Wilmore (Ed.),Exercise and sport sciences reviews (pp. 141–153). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  6. Cashmore, C. C., Davies, C. T., & Few, J. D. (1977). Relationship between increase in plasma Cortisol concentration and rate of Cortisol secretion during exercise in man.Journal of Endocrinology.72. 109–110.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen, S., Tyrrell, D. A., & Smith, A. P. (1991). Psychological stress and susceptibility to the common cold.New England Journal of Medicine.325(9). 606–612.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cupps, T., & Fauci, A. (1982). Corticosteroid-mediated immunoregulation in man.Immunological Review, 65. 133–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daniels, W. L., Sharp, D. S., Wright, J. E., Vogcl, J. A., Friman, G., Beisel, W. R., & Knapik, J. J. (1985). Effects of virus infection on physical performance in man.Military Medicine, 150, 1–8.Google Scholar
  10. Duncan, M., Sadlik, J.,& Hadden, J. (1982), Glucocorticoid modulation of lymphokine-induced macrophage proliferation.Cellular Immunology.67, 23–30.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eskola, J., Ruuskanen, O., Soppi, E., Viljanen, M. K., Jarvinen, M., Toivonen, H., & Kouvalainen, K. (1978). Effect of sport stress on lymphocyte transformation and antibody formation.Clinical Experimental Immunology, 32, 339–345.Google Scholar
  12. Farrell, P. A., Garthwaite, T. L., & Gustafson, B. (1983) Plasma adrenocorlicolropin and Cortisol response to submaximal and exhaustive exercise.Journal of Applied Physiology, 55, 1441–1444.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Florini, J. R. (1987). Hormonal control of muscle growth.Muscle & Nerve.10. 577–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flynn, M. G., Pizza, F. X., Boone, J. B., Andres, F. F., Michaud, T. A., Rodriguez-Zayas, J. R. (1994). Indices of training stress during competitive running and swimming seasons.International Journal of Sports Medicine, 15, 21–26.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Frankenhaeuser, M. (1990). A psychobiological framework for human stress and coping. In M. H. Appley & R. Trumbull (Eds.),Dynamics of stress: Physiological, psychological, and social perspectives (pp. 105–111). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  16. Frankenhaeuser, M. (1991). The psychophysiology of workload, stress, and health. Comparison between sexes.Annuals of Behavioral Medicine, 13(4), 197–204.Google Scholar
  17. Hanson, S. J., McCullagh, P., & Tonymon, P. (1992). The relationship of personality characteristics, life stress, and coping resources to athletic injury.Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 14, 262–272.Google Scholar
  18. Henry, J. P. (1992). Biological basis of the stress response.Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Sciences.27(1). 66–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hill, S., Goetz, F., Fox, H., Murawski, B., Krakauer, L., Reifenstein, R., Gray, S., Reddy, W. Hedberg, S., St. Marc, J., & Thorn, G. (1956). Studies on adrenocortical and psychological responses to stress in man.Archives of Internal Medicine.97. 269–298.Google Scholar
  20. Hooper, S. L., Mackinnon, L. T., Gordon, R. D., & Bachmann, A. W. (1993). Hormonal responses of elite swimmers to over-training.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.25, 741–747.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Jemmott, J., & Lockc, S. (1984). Psychosocial factors, immunologic mediation, and human susceptibility to infectious diseases: How much do we know?Psychological Bulletin.95, 79–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kerr, G., & Minden, H. (1988). Psychological factors related to the occurrence of athletic injuries.Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.10, 167–173.Google Scholar
  23. KiecoJt-Gmser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (1991). Stress-immune functions in humans, In R. Adder, D. L. Felton, & N. Cohen (Eds.),Psychoneuroimmunology (2nd ed., pp. 849–868). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  24. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (1992). Psychoneuroimmunology; Can psychological interventions modulate immunity?Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 569–575.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kirschbaum, C. & Hellhammer, D. H. (1994). Salivary Cortisol in psychoneuroendoerine research: Recent developments and applications.Psychoneuroendocrinology.19(4), 313–333.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kirwan, J. P.. Costill, D. L., Flynn, M. G., Mitchell, J. B., Fink, W. J., Neufer, P. D., & Houmard, J. A. (1988). Physiological responses to successive days of intense training in competitive swimmers.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 20, 255–259.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lopez Calhet, J. A., Navarro, M. A., Barbany, J. R., Garcia Manso, J., Bonnin, M. R., & Valero, J. (1993). Salivary steroid changes and physical performance in highly trained cyclists,International Journal of Sports Medicine, 14, 111–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lutoslawska, G., Obminski, Z., Krogulski, A., & Sendecki, W. (1991). Plasma Cortisol and testosterone following 19-km and 42-km kayak races.Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.31(4). 538–541.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Mackinnon, L. T. (1992).Exercise and immunology: Current issues in exercise science. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.Google Scholar
  30. Mackinnon, L. T., Ginn, E., & Seymour, G. (1991). Effects of exercise during sports training and competition on salivary IgA levels. In A. J. Husband (Ed.),Behaviour and immunity (pp. 169–177), Boca Raton, FL: CRC.Google Scholar
  31. Mackinnon, L. T., & Jenkins, D. G. (1993). Decreased salivary immunoglobulins after intense interval exercise before and after training.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 678–683.Google Scholar
  32. Mason, J. W., Kosten, T. R., Southwick, S. M., & Giller, E. L. (1990). The use of psychoendocrine strategies in post-traumatic stress disorder.Journal of Applied Social Psychology.20(21), 1822–1846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McCabe, P. M., & Schneiderman, N. (1985). Psychophysiologic reactions to stress. In N. Schneiderman & J. T. Tapp (Eds.),Behavioral medicine: The biopsychosocial approach (pp. 99–131). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  34. McDowell, S., Perna, F., & Ratliff, K. (1994). Performance and psychological profiles of elite rowers,Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.26(5), S195.Google Scholar
  35. Miller, L. H., Smith, A. D., & Mehler, B. (1987).The stress audit. Boston, MA: Biobehavioral Associates.Google Scholar
  36. Morgan, W., & Goldston, S. (1987).Exercise and mental health. New York: Hemisphere.Google Scholar
  37. Munck, A., Guyre, P. M., & Holbrook, N. J. (1984). Physiological functions of glucocorticoid in stress and their relation to pharmacological actions.Endocrine Review, 5, 25–44.Google Scholar
  38. Nieman, D. C., Johanssen, L. M., & Lee, J. W. (1989). Infectious episodes in runners before and after a road race.Journal of Sports Medicine, 29, 289–296.Google Scholar
  39. Nieman, D. C.. Johanssen, L. M., Lee, J. W., & Arabatzis, K. (1990). Infectious episodes in runners before and after the Los Angeles Marathon.Journal of Sports Medicine, 30. 316–328.Google Scholar
  40. O’Connor, P. J., Morgan, W. P., Raglin, J. S., Barksdale, C. M., & Kalin, N. H. (1989). Mood stale and salivary Cortisol levels following overtraining in female swimmers.Psychoneuroendocrinology, 14. 303–310.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Oshida, Y., Yamanouchi, K., Hayatmizu, S., & Salo, Y. (1988). Effete of acute physical exercise on lymphocyte subpnpulalions in trained and untrained subjects.International Journal of Sports Medicine, 9, 137–140.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Passer, M. W., & Seese, M. D. (1983). Life-stress and athletic injury: An examination of positive versus negative events and three moderator variables.Journal of Human Stress, 9, 11–16.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Perna, F. M., McDowell, S. M., & Spencer, S. M, (1994) Stress, coping, and health among elite athletes.Annuls of Behavioral Medicine, 16, S148.Google Scholar
  44. Petrie, T. A. (1490. August).Life stress, social support, and athletic injury: Development and validation of the Life Events Survey for Collegiate Athlete. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston.Google Scholar
  45. Petrie, T. A. (1991). Psychosocial antecedents of athletic injury The effects of life stress and social support on female collegiate gymnasts.Behavioral Medicine, 18(3), 127–138.Google Scholar
  46. Riad-Fahmy, D., Read, G. F., Walker, R. F., & Griffiths, D. (1982). Steroids in saliva for assessing endocrine function.Endocrine Review, 3(4), 367–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Roberts, J. A. (1986). Viral illness and sports performance.Sports Medicine.3, 296–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Simon, H. B. (1987). Exercise and infection.Physician and Sports Medicine, 15(10), 135–141.Google Scholar
  49. Smith, J. A., McKenzie, S. J., Telford, R. D., & Weidmann, M. J. (1991). Why does moderate exercise enhance, but intense training depress immunity? In A. Husband (Ed.).Behaviour and immunity (pp. 155–168). Boca Raton, FL: CRC.Google Scholar
  50. Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L. &Placek, J. T. (1990). Conjunctive moderator variables in vulnerability and resiliency research; Life stress, social support and coping skills, and adolescent sport injuries.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.5812. 360–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Snegovskaya, V., & Viru, A. (1993). Efevation of Cortisol and growth hormone levels in the course of further improvement of performance capacity in trained rowers.International Journal of Sports Medicine, 14, 202–206.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tharp, G. D. (1975). The role of glucocorticoids in exercise.Medicine and Science in Sports.7. 6–11.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Tharp, G. D., & Barnes, M. W. (1990). Reduclion of saliva immunoglobulin levels by swim training.European Journal of Applied Physiology, 60, 61–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tvede, N., Pedersen, B. K., Hansen, F. R. Bcndix, T. Christensen, L. D., Galbo, H., & Halkjaer-Kristensen, J. (1989). Effect of physical exercise on blood mononuclear cell subpopulations and in vitro proliferative responses.Scandinavian Journal of Immunology, 29, 383–389.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Urhausen, A., & Kinderman, W. (1987). Behaviour of testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin, and Cortisol before and aftera triathlon competition.International Journal of Sports Medicine, 8, 305–308.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Verde, T., Thomas, S., & Shephard, R. J., (1992). Potential markers of heavy training in highly trained distance runners.British Journal of Sports Medicine, 26(3), 167–175.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Weidner, T. G. (1994). Literature review. Upper respiratory illness and sport and exercise.International Journal of Sports Medicine, 15, 1–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Williams, J. M.. Tonymon, P., & Wadsworth, W. A. (1986). Relationship of life slress to injury in intercollegiate volleyball.Journal of Human Stress, 12, 38–43.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Zawadzki, K. M., Wilber, R. L., Fleck, S. J., & Kearney, J. T. (1994). Physiological profiles of elite female cyclists.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.26(5). S182.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank M. Perna
    • 1
  • Sharon L. McDowell
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Behavioral Medicine Research Training CenterUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  2. 2.United States Olympic Training CenterColorado SpringsUSA

Personalised recommendations