Exercise and Hormone Health

2020-09-29T22:01:57+01:00September 29th, 2020|

The standard treatment for hormone imbalances often do not look at lifestyle: conventional medicine prescribes medications and holistic medicine provides a long (and expensive) list of supplements. While both approaches have their benefits, they often ignore the fact that our body has the power to restore itself when given the right tools. Lifestyle is often the root cause of many hormone-related issues, whether it’s not getting enough sleep or chronic stress and burnout. Luckily though, there are other ways you can use in your lifestyle to improve your hormones and one of them includes exercise. Physical activity isn’t only good for your weight. It’s also good for total body wellness – hormones included.

Hormones are chemical messengers that work to keep our body in balance. Hormones are responsible for many functions, including reproduction, blood sugar regulation, digestion, mood, metabolism, and sleep (amongst many others). Too little or too much of them can cause many problems. Infertility, depression, anxiety, poor digestion, insomnia, weight changes, weak bones, low libido, and blood sugar imbalances are all key symptoms that something has gone wrong with your hormones.

Here are some lifestyle common triggers for hormone imbalances:
Chronic stress
Lack of sleep
Poor diet
High sugar intake
Endocrine disruptors (found in plastic, pesticides, herbicides, pollution, etc.)
Certain medications
Life transitions (menopause, puberty)
Pregnancy

Dysbiosis or poor gut health

Exercise can improve hormone imbalances. While some cases are trickier than others, most situations can get better with a regular exercise routine.

Insulin
This is often wrongly labelled as a “fat-storage” hoarder. The truth is that insulin is simply doing its job of regulating metabolism. Specifically, the absorption and use of carbs and fat. Believe it or not, insulin is a powerful ally, helping to balance blood sugar (glucose). Thanks to it, we can either use carbs for fuel or store it for a later time when we need it.
The problems we see with insulin occur when we become resistant (not sensitive) to it. When this happens, we start seeing conditions like hyperglycaemia, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fat gain. Exercise helps to keep it balanced. During physical activity (i.e., working out, walking, hiking, dancing, etc.), the body puts a temporary hold on insulin release. Meanwhile, we tap into stored sugar (glycogen) for energy, which increases our sensitivity to insulin later on. The more consistent we are with exercise, the more sensitive we remain to insulin.

Several studies have shown the positive effects of exercise on type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance), whether it’s cardio or resistance training.

Ostrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone
Exercise works in a number of ways to improve and balance these hormones.
While oestrogen is vital for healthy bones, mood and fertility, it can cause serious problems when in excess, most notably breast cancer. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of regular exercise for lowering breast cancer risk, especially in older women. Remember the keyword, though: excess. As long as you’re not over-exercising for hours at a time and focusing on recovery with the proper nutrition and rest, you shouldn’t have to worry about losing too much oestrogen. Exercise helps to keep it from becoming dominant.
For progesterone, which is another fertility hormone, exercise helps to protect it from being overwhelmed by oestrogen dominance. Once again, unless you’re taking your workouts to extremes and not recovering, you shouldn’t have to worry about progesterone getting too low.

Finally, we have testosterone. This hormone is normally associated with men, but women need it too. Regular exercise increases testosterone, which helps with putting on muscle, strengthening bones, staying energised and burning fat. In women the research tends to favour a mix of HIIT-style workouts paired with resistance exercise. (Lucky for you, my workout schedules have that covered!) But don’t worry, ladies! Unless you’re taking steroids, no amount of exercise or resistance training is going to turn you into the Hulk. Not only do we not make enough for this to happen, but too much exercise can also actually lower testosterone. Exercise (specifically resistance training) only causes a temporary spike in testosterone.

Human Growth Hormone
The holy grail of hormones in the fitness world, HGH (human growth hormone) contributes to muscle growth, bone health and fat metabolism. Two of the top ways to increase it are sleep and exercise.
However, not just any exercise will do. Research tends to favour either serious resistance training or HIIT style workouts. (Again, I have this covered). Long, drawn-out endurance work (an hour or more – jogging/running for instance) doesn’t seem to be as effective.

HGH can support oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone by improving weight and ratios of fat to muscle in the body. Studies show a correlation between obesity and hormone imbalances; with HGH, you can make a good deal of improvements by increasing lean muscle and lowering fat.

The takeaway here is that similar to the story of Goldilocks, the right amount of exercise (not too little and not too much) can effectively balance and improve hormones in the body.

Anna x