We all know how important exercise is for good health in general but you may not realise how it can affect your hormone balance. Exercise is a great leveller as it can reduce excess hormones and bring hormones back into balance. Some of the hormones that can be affected by exercise include oestrogen, testosterone, cortisol and human growth hormone. Let’s have a look at how exercise can affect your levels of some major hormones and the best types of workouts to reap the benefits.
Exercise and Oestrogen
This is one hormone that women are sure to have some familiarity with given that it’s a female sex hormone. Oestrogen is also produced in men as they need some oestrogen for a healthy sex drive but too much oestrogen can go hand in hand with low testosterone.
For women, oestrogen is important for healthy bones, brain function and cholesterol levels as well as other functions. It’s a fine balance though as too much oestrogen raises the risk of many diseases such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, swollen breasts, headaches, PMS and weight gain. Experts estimate that by the age of 35, a lot of women are in “oestrogen dominance” due to the amount of oestrogen they have relative to their progesterone levels. That’s a big problem given that lots of things can potentially increase your oestrogen levels, such as the personal care products you use, household cleaning products, plastic food storage containers and even pesticides in foods. Scary stuff, right?
There is some good news though: exercise can make oestrogen levels more stable and can balance out the effects of excess oestrogen.
Does it matter what type of exercise you do? According to studies, high-intensity exercise showed more potential for balancing out oestrogen levels but physical activity, in general, has been shown to have positive effects.
Exercise and Testosterone
Testosterone is technically a male sex hormone but women have a bit of it too. It’s important for lean muscle mass and helping muscles to recover quicker after exercise. Low testosterone in women can have similar effects to low testosterone in men, although what’s classed as “low” obviously differs!
Exercise can boost testosterone levels, which can play a role in everything from libido to having more muscle mass and less belly fat. Experts suggest that it only takes around 20 minutes of physical activity to increase testosterone levels for women.
Exercise and Human Growth Hormone
If you’re not familiar with Human Growth Hormone (HGH), it has a big role to play in the turnover of collagen, muscle and bone and it’s also involved in healthy metabolism.
Your body produces some Human Growth Hormone while you sleep but exercise is also well known to boost levels. Not all exercise is equal though and only certain types have been shown to affect levels of Human Growth Hormone. Your best bets? According to studies, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and resistance training (using weights) can build on this. What is HIIT? Short bouts of intense exercise are alternated with lower intensity exercise or “rest periods”.
Exercise and Cortisol
Cortisol is the hormone responsible for your “fight or flight” response to stress. To some degree, you need cortisol to help to repair exercise related muscle damage and encourage your muscles to recover more quickly after working out.
It’s not all good news though. Having high cortisol levels most of the time makes you more likely to store fat, especially belly fat.
When you work out, your body’s cortisol levels rise. This is a given and there’s not much you can do about it. That said, some types of exercise are more likely to raise cortisol levels than others.
Low intensity exercise such as walking can reduce cortisol levels and keep them stable whereas reasonably high intensity exercise like a fast run has been shown to increase them. Endurance training such as marathon running is one of the types of exercise that can significantly raise cortisol levels, especially when it’s intense.
Exercise and Insulin
Regular exercise can help to improve insulin resistance. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a good choice for this, according to studies, but it’s not quite as straightforward as this given that HIIT also increases cortisol levels. How much it raises cortisol levels can depend on factors such as how long you rest in between intervals and whether you recover well between HIIT sessions.
Moderate exercise can be a great way to keep your hormone levels healthy, especially when it’s combined with good nutrition, plenty of sleep and a healthy lifestyle in general. Don’t be tempted to overdo it though. One word of caution when it comes to all of these hormones is that over exercising can throw everything out of whack – especially if you do it more often than not.
So how do you know if your exercising is hurting you and not helping you? Here are some signs:
- It’s draining and you feel exhausted
- You feel good afterwards but you crash hours later
- You are easily injured
- You take a long time to recover
- You are very sore afterwards (not in a good way)
- You get sick often
It’s almost like Goldilocks- not too much and not too little. The trick is to find the amount of exercise that is just right for you and to get those sneakers on.
Medical Disclaimer: All information contained in this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent health problems. For all serious health issues, please contact a medical or nutrition practitioner. The information provided in this blog is based on the best knowledge of the author at the time of writing and we do not assume liability for the information within this blog, be it direct or indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages.