How Exercise Can Balance Your Hormones
Hormones are fickle beasts. It seems like the slightest thing can throw them out of whack. And when hormones are unbalanced, most people turn to their diet or supplements to get them back to an optimal level. But did you know that your workout routine can actually play a major role in balancing your hormones?
In this blog, we’ll break down why and how exercising can influence your hormones and what exercises to do to trigger specific hormonal changes.
How to use exercise to balance your hormones:
When you exercise, you stress your body, sending signals to your endocrine system (the system responsible for secreting hormones). As your endocrine system receives these stress signals, it releases hormones in response, like cortisol and testosterone. In turn, your body is now prepped to handle this physical stress.
However, working out to balance hormones is all part of a complex balancing act. You can't simply work out a lot and expect your hormones to become balanced. For, working out too much is bad for your entire body, and can cause you to develop symptoms like:
A decline in skin, hair, and nail health
Digestive issues like diarrhea, loss of appetite, and constipation
Repeated infections with colds or upper respiratory tract infections
Moreover, working out too much can also cause you to develop a condition called overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome is caused by too much exercise and too little protein, carbohydrates, and calories. This syndrome can also exacerbate stress, suppress immune function, cause GI disturbances, induce fatigue, and will mess with your hormonal balance.
A 2019 study in BMC Sports Science, Medicine, and Rehabilitation demonstrated just how overtraining syndrome can impact your hormones. The researchers discovered that the main hormones impacted by your workout routine are:
Human growth hormone
The study demonstrated that overtraining syndrome can throw your hormones out of balance, leading to the release of cortisol and other stress hormones. Moreover, the syndrome distorts the testosterone-estradiol ratio, which can negatively impact metabolism and body composition. In women, too much estradiol has been associated with low sex drive, weight gain, depression, acne, and even breast cancer.
To make matters more complex, there’s no magic solution to how much or how you should work out to balance your hormones. Studies have found that hormones released during exercise differ from person to person. For example, women respond better to moderate resistance training when exercising to balance testosterone and progesterone. While men see better results with weight training and explosive movements to impact the same hormones.
Despite how complex this all may seem, your fitness routine will impact your hormones whether you know it or not. And, it's helpful to know just how certain exercises alter your hormones. So, we’ve compiled the hormones most impacted by your workout routine and the adjustments you can make.
Every time you exercise, you’re raising your cortisol levels. This hormone is secreted from the adrenal glands in response to emotional stress (interpersonal struggles), mental stress (work), environmental stress (toxins), and physical stress (exercise). And as your cortisol levels increase, you begin to enter fight-or-flight mode, increasing your blood pressure, elevating your heart rate, and releasing glucose into the bloodstream. However, cortisol also serves many other bodily functions like managing the metabolism, memory, and blood sugar levels.
You may know your cortisol levels are unbalanced if you experience symptoms like:
Rapid weight gain in the chest, face, and abdomen
High blood pressure
Skin changes (like purple stretch marks and bruises)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, high-intensity exercise sends a strong signal to the body that there’s impending danger and drastically raises cortisol levels. So, if you suffer from chronic stress, it may be better to focus on low-level, restorative movement. Lower to moderate intensity exercises don’t cause that drastic spike in cortisol and will actually help to lower it in the hours after a workout. Good exercises for people with high cortisol or chronic stress include yoga, walking, hiking, or tai chi.
However, for healthy individuals who do not deal with chronic stress, the cortisol spike triggered by high-intensity workouts can actually help lower overall cortisol levels in the long run. After the initial spike, overall cortisol levels will drop and remain lower.
Exercise can also help to improve your insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone that works to transfer glucose in your blood to cells in your liver and muscles. If you don’t produce enough insulin or secrete it properly, your blood sugar levels will increase, putting you at risk of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Your insulin levels may be out of balance if you experience health issues like:
Exercise works to improve insulin sensitivity by promoting the absorption of glycogen. Glycogen is the compound that muscles use for fuel. As you exercise, sugar moves into the muscles for storage and your insulin sensitivity will improve for up to 48 hours following your workout. Studies have found that combining aerobic and resistance training is most effective in boosting insulin sensitivity.
Moreover, a study in Diabetes Spectrum demonstrated that doing HIIT several times a week can help to further improve glucose levels and provide cardiometabolic benefits for those with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
However, one thing to note about using high-intensity exercise to promote insulin is that if your cortisol is out of whack, it might not be a good idea. This is because if your cortisol is too high or low, it will actually make your body less sensitive to insulin.
Human Growth Hormone:
Human growth hormone (HGH) is the hormone responsible for cell reproduction and growth. Levels of HGH are highest during childhood, peaking during puberty, and gradually declining after middle age. HGH also plays a role in increasing muscle mass, decreasing body fat, supporting the immune system, and boosting the metabolism.
Your HGH levels may be low if you see symptoms like:
Higher body fat percentage
Greater sensitivity to cold and heat
Less strength and stamina
According to experts, HGH is best stimulated by high-intensity interval training and resistance training. This includes moves like sprinting, box jumping, and doing heavy weight lifts. Interestingly, studies have suggested that women experience higher HGH increases after doing heavy resistance training than men.
However, studies have also found that the type of workout you do may not be as important as how intense your workout is. As long as your working out intensely, you’ll trigger HGH production.
Melatonin is the hormone that works to regulate sleep and support your circadian rhythm. Commonly known as the “sleep hormone”, this hormone is activated in response to darkness or nighttime. Also called the “hormone of darkness”, melatonin signals to your body when it’s time to go to sleep.
Symptoms of low melatonin include:
Excessive daytime sleepiness
Circadian rhythm disruptions
Frequent nighttime wakeups
Acceleration of aging
When it comes to exercising to affect your melatonin, when you work out is more important than how you work out. Working out in the morning can help to communicate to your body to start melatonin production in the early evening. Producing melatonin earlier in the evening will help to increase your sleep quality- allowing for better sleep rhythms and fewer nighttime wakeups. For someone with sleep issues, getting your workout in the morning is best! If you can do your exercise outside, it's even better.
If you don’t have sleep problems, working out in the afternoon or evening may be okay for you. Just make sure you don’t work out too close to bedtime. Working out increases your heart rate, nervous system activity, and body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep.
Estrogen is mostly known as being one of the main sex hormones for women- it plays a role in regulating the menstrual cycle. But estrogen also contributes to bone health, cognitive health, the function of the cardiovascular system, and numerous other essential bodily functions. While the ovaries produce most estrogen in the body, some is also created in the adrenal glands.
Your estrogen may be out of balance if you experience symptoms like:
Irregular or absent periods
Cardio and other forms of moderate-to-intense exercises are the best workouts to help balance estrogen. Exercise helps to boost increasing lean muscle mass and decrease fat mass. Fat cells naturally produce harmful amounts of estrogen, so staying lean will help to balance your levels.
These estrogen-balancing effects of exercise have been found to be most impactful for women above the age of 50. Studies have found that exercising helps to balance estrogen levels by lowering estrogen levels in post-menopausal women, helping to decrease the risk of breast cancer.
The hormone testosterone is produced in the brain and pituitary gland. It’s an incredibly important hormone for both men and women, helping to build stronger muscles, support bone mass, and repair damaged muscle tissue.
Your testosterone may be too low if you have health issues like:
Reduced sex drive
Loss of body hair or beard growth
Irregular menstrual issues
Loss of bone density
Like HGH, testosterone production is best stimulated by high-intensity workouts. Working the larger muscle groups with explosive, powerful movements like squats, resistance training, and jumping are best for triggering testosterone production.
However, if you have high testosterone levels, an intensive exercise program may not be best for you. For example, doing excess endurance exercises will suppress testosterone at the expense of raising cortisol. So, for those with high testosterone levels, doing moderate exercise is best.
When you're working out to balance your hormones, it's important to remember that exercising is only one slice of the pie. When attempting to balance your hormones, a holistic approach is key. Making sure you have a proper dietary plan, sleep routine, proper supplementation, AND a great workout routine will set you on the path to hormonal balance and success.
For more information on your hormones or hormone supplementation at The Johnson Center, click here to contact us. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 276-235-3205.
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