How Hormones Impact Exercise (and vice versa)
The effects of exercise on physical health, such as weight loss, muscle building, improved heart rate, and diabetes prevention, are well documented. However, the impact of exercise on hormonal health is less known.
Your hormones can have a positive or negative influence on your exercise experience. Likewise, exercise can be good, but also sometimes bad, for your hormones. As hormones are chemicals within the body that we can’t see, we don’t often pay attention to them, but the fact that they regulate almost every bodily process means we probably should.
Let’s learn about the relationship between hormones and exercise and how we can nurture that relationship for optimal health, both on the inside and outside.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers produced in the endocrine gland. These messengers control most major bodily functions from hunger to mood to metabolism to reproduction and beyond.
Sometimes, your hormones are working together in harmony which creates good health and a thriving body. Other times, your hormones can come out of balance for various reasons, such as age, chronic stress, poor diet, not getting enough sleep, food sensitivities or all sorts of other stressors. When this happens, you may experience adverse health effects like weight gain, chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance in Women
The most common cause of hormonal imbalance in women is caused by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), though other causes include puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women include:
- Heavy, irregular or absent menstruation
- Acne on the face, chest or back
- Hirsutism (excess hair on the face, chest and other areas women typically don’t want it)
- Thinning hair on the head
- Weight gain, particularly around the belly area
- Trouble losing weight
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance in Men
Although hormonal issues are often associated with women, men experience them too. In fact, as many as 25% of men over the age of 30 have low testosterone levels.
Common symptoms of hormone imbalance in men include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Loss of muscle mass
- Decreased sex drive
- Development of breast tissue
- Breast tenderness
- Hot flashes
The Relationship Between Hormones and Exercise
So what does all of this have to do with exercise?
Well, proper exercise can help balance out those hormones and get you feeling good again. On the other hand, certain forms of exercise don’t work well for unbalanced hormones and may actually make the problem worse.
It works the other way around as well. Hormones are responsible for fat burning and muscle building. When your hormones are functioning properly, they can aid you in obtaining the best possible results from your exercise routine, whether that be muscle building, weight loss or any other fitness goal.
Hormones and Exercise in Women
Exercise is crucial for a woman’s health. Physical activity increases muscle mass, strengthens the bones and reduces body fat.
In women whose hormones are out of balance, daily exercise is key to balancing them out naturally. The right exercise can help shed that stubborn weight that many women with hormone dysregulation experience. It can also reduce cortisol levels which, in turn, reduces stress, depression and anxiety. It can help to balance out androgen and insulin levels, which can help regulate menstrual cycles and increase fertility.
So, what happens when you’ve worked out harder than an Olympian training for a marathon and the weight still won’t budge? Well, you may be training too hard. We’re going to talk about this in further detail below!
Hormones and Exercise in Men
We’ve mentioned that as many as one out of every four men over 30 have low testosterone levels. Talk about a blow to manhood. Not to fret. There are plenty of things you can do to regain control of your hormones naturally.
Just like with women, exercise is key to managing hormones in men. Testosterone levels rise after exercise, but they don’t stay that way forever. For that reason, it’s imperative to make exercise a regular habit to reap the benefits.
When you exercise may matter as well. Testosterone levels tend to be higher in the morning and lower in the evening. So, some men may benefit from hitting the boxing studio after work, rather than early in the morning.
Low testosterone in men and obesity often go hand in hand; by exercising you're getting a double whammy. Exercise will decrease your weight and improve testosterone levels. Improved testosterone levels will also aid in weight loss.
The Best and Worst Exercises for Hormones
The advice for exercise and balancing hormones is generally the same for men and women. Let’s take a look.
Worst Exercises for Hormones
Whether you are an amateur or an elite athlete, overtraining can take a toll on your hormones. Exercise is a form of stress on the body. When that stress is not broken up with proper resting periods, it taxes the adrenal glands, causing too much cortisol. Excess cortisol can lead to a dysregulation of other hormones, like testosterone. Think of it as a domino effect: when one hormone is out of balance, others are sure to follow.
So, what is too hard? Long-duration exercises like distance running (think training for a marathon) or even extreme heavy weight lifting like Crossfit can cause metabolic stress, affecting your hormones and also your immunity.
Now, the above exercises are not inherently bad, and you don’t have to quit them forever; just ease up for a while. Once you're feeling well again, you can slowly add those more intense workouts back in if that's what you enjoy.
How do you know if you're overtraining? Here are some signs:
- Feeling very fatigued and run down rather than energized after a workout.
- Chronic fatigue in general, even after adequate sleep.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Chronic soreness in muscles and joints.
- Hitting a plateau. This one may seem counterintuitive. When you hit a plateau, the natural thing to do is increase your workout intensity and duration, but you may need to actually do the opposite!
It’s not always easy to determine on your own whether you need to increase or decrease your workout intensity. It can be a fine line to walk. It may take some trial and error, but a Gloveworx coach can help tailor your workouts to your ever-changing needs.
Best Exercises for Hormones
If you’re noticing some of the symptoms of hormone imbalance, or if you're just not getting the results you desire, try some of these workouts:
Walking - When it comes to healing your hormones, sometimes you need to take it back to basics. Walking is an underrated form of movement that can greatly reduce stress and cortisol levels, especially when done out in nature.
Strength Training - Two to three days a week of strength training helps to improve your metabolism and hormones.
High-Intensity Interval Training - Remember, long-duration cardio tends to stress our bodies. HIIT workouts, where you alternate periods of high-intensity exercise followed by short rest periods, are incredible for balancing hormones. Just be sure to rest in between, as interval training is not something you should be doing seven days a week.
Leisurely Exercise - Restorative workouts like yoga, Pilates, biking, swimming or hiking or are all great forms of active recovery. These leisurely workouts help to get the blood flowing and keep you active, while at the same time promoting a sense of calm and a body-mind connection.
Caring for Your Hormones Outside of Exercise
It’s important to make a point to take care of your hormones outside of exercise by eating well, reducing stress, practicing self-care and getting enough sleep. Even if your workouts are ideal, your hormones will need extra “outside” help getting balanced. Remember, the healthier your hormones, the better the results you will see from your fitness routine!
Boxing is a great workout for hormonal health. It typically incorporates a mix of strength training and high-intensity interval training, as well as some lighter more restorative workouts. Transform your health by booking a session at Gloveworx.