Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers. They direct biochemical reactions that happen inside your body. Without hormonal balance, you lose the ability to adapt to your environment. At times food is plentiful and other times it’s scarce. You may be having a good day, or a stressful one. Your environment is constantly changing, and you need your hormones to adapt to these changes. An imbalance can lead to health complications from infertility and acne to depression and loss of strength, which can result in serious long-term health issues.
The Body as a Whole
Everything in the body is interconnected. Many hormones interact with one another to send messages to your cells. The amount of one hormone can regulate another. Major hormones such as insulin, adrenaline and cortisol are necessary for life. You wouldn’t be able to survive if any one of these were missing. Because your hormones keep you responsive to your environment, your hormonal balance changes based upon it. Along with a healthy lifestyle, exercise is an environmental input that can significantly affect your hormonal balance – and subsequently your health. If you understand how exercise impacts your hormones, you can use physical activity to your advantage.
The Low Down on Exercise
Exercise is defined as activity that requires physical or mental exertion. There are three general categories of exercise: cardiovascular, strength and flexibility. Cardiovascular exercise improves hormone function and sleep. Strength exercise builds lean body mass, accelerates metabolic rate, and aids fat loss. Flexibility exercise lowers stress and adrenaline, and helps maintain range of motion.
Keep it Short and Sweet
When it comes to hormonal health, more exercise is not always better. This is true especially for people showing signs of adrenal fatigue, insomnia, underactive thyroid, suppressed immunity, or slow recovery after exercising. Although beneficial in moderation, exercise is actually a form of stress imposed on the body. Less is more! Unless you are an athlete with sport specific training, exercise sessions longer than 45 minutes are not necessary, and can even be harmful. Long workouts can crank up cortisol levels. Cortisol is the “chronic stress” hormone, and when always elevated, it builds fat. It is destructive to our muscle tissue. There is a strong relationship between elevated cortisol and decreased testosterone. Keeping your workouts shorter promotes hormone balance and overall health.
Out with the Sugar
Exercise impacts the three major hormones mentioned above in positive and negative ways. Insulin is known as the building and “digesting” hormone that lowers blood sugar after you have eaten sweets. Excess sugar causes an insulin spike, which stresses your body. Cortisol than rises and fat is stored in the belly as a result. This also leads to unhealthy levels of testosterone, associated with issues such as acne, infertility and masculine characteristics in women. Excess sugar and insulin in the blood prevent fat loss, which then causes the body to become too estrogenic. Excess estrogen is related to problems like mood swings, cysts or fibroids and estrogen driven cancers. It is a vicious cycle! Regulate your insulin with exercise! It doesn’t necessarily impact blood sugar in the short term, but it increases your sensitivity to insulin, which will help you manage your blood sugar long term.
Go Hard or Go Home
Don’t hold back, ladies especially! If you can lift heavier weights, do it! Simply ensure you are performing your exercises with proper form to avoid injury. Pumping iron will help you increase lean muscle mass, accelerate your metabolism and boost growth hormone. To do this, do fewer repetitions with heavier weight. By the last repetition, your muscle should reach exhaustion. Don’t Be a Night Owl
Exercise increases the production of adrenaline in your body and this persists for hours after. With excess adrenaline, you cannot sufficiently produce melatonin, the sleep hormone. If your body is not stimulated by melatonin, you cannot wind down and fall asleep at night. Without proper rest, other hormones become unbalanced and your metabolism slows down. Exercising at night has disastrous effects on your entire circadian rhythm, known as your internal clock. You do best while following the sun. Upon sunrise, your body produces serotonin, which is the hormone that keeps you awake and happy. With the sunset, it produces melatonin. It is most beneficial to exercise early in the morning, or in daylight. This helps your body balance and synchronize itself with nature.
Training Versus Exercise
It’s important to understand the difference between training and exercising. When you train, you’re choosing to stress your body in order to reach a goal, like completing a race. This is acceptable, but you must be sensitive to your body’s need to rebuild. Exercising, on the other hand, is for fitness, health and wellbeing – something that should be important for all of us. Choose the length and type of exercise wisely. To reap the benefits without allowing exercise to become a stressor, remain cognizant of how it impacts your hormones. There is no role for long and stressful exercise sessions in a wellness-oriented routine, unless training for a sport. Exercise smart!
Ground Yourself and Breathe
Along with challenging your heart and muscles with cardio and weights, you can increase flexibility and tone by practicing yoga. This grounding and stress relieving activity lowers cortisol, reduces adrenalin, improves sleep and concentration, and balances hormones. Yoga also has a positive effect on mood and anxiety. If you aren’t so much of a yogi, there are other forms of relaxation you can choose. Practice tai chi, meditation, deep breathing or take long walks in the forest or beach, preferably barefoot, to ground yourself with the subtle but ever-present healing electrical energy that is on the earth’s surface. Grounding is simple, free and it gives you a deep sense of well-being. You simply connect your bare feet directly to the earth and enjoy the organic healing benefits.
The Holistic Picture
Your hormones are critical to your health and wellbeing. Hormonal balance allows you to remain responsive to your environment. Exercise is one way you can have an input to maximize this balance. Constant attention to diet, sleep, and stress management are also important components along with quality exercise. True health and hormone balance is achieved with a holistic approach, by considering all aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, sleep peacefully and play joyfully.