Balance is tricky. It’s not a stagnant state. It is the constant reshuffling of different priorities to create harmony. One day that might mean pizza the next, yoga. What you need to know is that these factors - the eating and the running work in harmony to regulate your body’s function.
Hormones are involved in many of the major aspects of your health including metabolism, inflammation, weight, fertility, and mental well being. They control how you think, act, move, and feel.
We know that you know that exercise is an important part of your own self care. But it goes deeper than that. Different types of exercise impact the balance and function of your hormones. Here are examples of how you can exercise to promote healthy, happy, hormonal balance.
Cortisol - The good ol’ stress hormone. This guy is made by the adrenal glands with cholesterol in response to stress whether it’s mental (work/family), physical (exercise/exertion/trauma), or environmental (toxins). Cortisol is most known as hormone that tells your to flee or fight a stressful situation, however it’s also involved in your normal day to day activities such as waking up, exercising, and selecting the right energy in order to meet the daily demands of your life. Issues arise when you have long term stress that leads to chronically high levels of cortisol. Because this hormone is involved in many other pathways that regulate metabolism, if it’s levels on constantly high, it could wreak havoc on your metabolism.
How exercise can help: Certainly, exercise helps reduce mental stress, but if you’re in a constant state of fight or flight, pay attention to the intensity of your workouts. Higher intensity workouts can lead to more stress and inflammation which in turn can lead to burnout or continuous injury. Trust us when we say that going hard all the time can do serious damage to your physical and mental state. Trust your body and allow yourself appropriate recovery. If you’re feeling amp’d up or really inflamed or sick, avoid the HIIT workout as this type of exercise raises cortisol levels. Instead, we recommend yoga or pilates to bring down the stress and cortisol levels. If you’re a person that exercises to the tenth degree everyday, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Mixing in low intensity days with stretching and light loads helps with recovery and reduces inflammation by balancing out cortisol.
Insulin is involved in the uptake and storage of glucose. When glucose levels are high insulin is released in order to tell the body’s cells to collect and store glucose muscle and the liver. When you have chronically high levels of glucose circulating in your body, two things can happen. One: your pancreas (where insulin is made) becomes tired and can’t keep up with the demand. This is called insulin resistance. Two: Your muscles and fat, cells become less sensitive to insulin signals, so they are unable to take in glucose for storage. This means glucose stays in the blood, increasing your risk for diabetes, infertility, and/or metabolic syndrome.
How exercise can help: Most of your glucose is stored in your muscles so it’s ready to be used when you need it. High intensity strength training - e.g. lifting more than those ridiculous 2 lb dumbbells (don’t get me started) helps build muscle strength and quality via hypertrophy, which promotes the activity of those insulin receptors cells. This type of training along with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has been shown to improve whole body insulin resistance and sensitivity by improving muscle quality. So, go beast mode and get those Michelle Obama arms.
Sex hormones - Put simply, estrogen and testosterone regulate female and male characteristics (respectively) of the body and fertility. We all have both and need proper balance. Estrogen plays a crucial role in brain health, skin integrity, bone density, and cholesterol synthesis in the liver. Testosterone plays a role in healthy libido, muscle strength and synthesis, bone mass, fat distribution and red blood cell production.
How exercise can help: Estrogen and testosterone can be balanced by way of muscle mass. In the case of estrogen, it is mainly produced in female ovaries but is also synthesized in fat. Healthy body composition looks different on everyone and fat stores are essential for women’s reproductive and general health. Exercise that promotes healthy body mass composition help to regulate estrogen and testosterone levels in the body. If you have estrogen dominance, moderate functional strength training can improve muscle mass mass. For low estrogen to testosterone levels, focus on restorative exercise such as yoga or stretching to maintain healthy body composition.
Thyroid Hormone - Thyroid imbalance is becoming more and more common in women. It’s the main metabolic hormone that regulates energy, body temperature, growth and homeostasis. In order to work properly it needs to be converted to its active form. Interestingly, high cortisol levels can inhibit this action and those with under-active thyroid are at an increased risk for insulin resistance. We’re all just one big machine!
How exercise can help: Regular aerobic exercise can boost levels of T4 and T3, helping people who have low levels of hormones in the thyroid, such as patients with hypothyroidism or autoimmune diseases affecting the thyroid. Increased hormone production can, in turn, decrease the negative side effects of many thyroid disorders. For thyroid patients, moderately intense aerobic exercises can offer the health benefits of boosting metabolism and mood without stressing the body as much as intense cardio workouts. If you have a thyroid imbalance it is important to seek medical attention and talk to your doctor about how best to exercise.
Endorphins - “Exercise makes your happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands,” - Elle Woods. It takes 20 minutes of physical activity for endorphins to be released but they sure do pack a punch of smiles. Endorphins work to increase your tolerance for pain as well as trigger happy feelings - similar to morphine (and show me the person who doesn’t smile on morphine). If you want to build resilience and feel more positive about your life, just take 20 minutes for physical activity. It’ll improve your sense of wellbeing and you’ll be less likely to murder your husbands, kids, neighbors, the “manspreader”, etc. Everyone wins!
Please keep in mind that over-exercising can also affect your hormonal balance and wellbeing so it’s important to keep balance in mind here. Over exercising will only induce inflammation, wreaking havoc on your mind body connection, so LISTEN TO YOUR BODY when you need to rest or when it feels like you’re going to hard.
ONE LAST RANT FOR THE LADIES.
As a trainer and wellness practitioner, I feel this is important. Here’s a little note on strength training. Somewhere along the way, women were taught that being strong isn’t necessary. That it’s better off for them to lift light or run a bajillion miles. Apparently it’s not lady like to squat, deadlift, or be able to get yourself up from the ground. But you need a strong back to carry the weight of not just you, but your kids (literally) and their stuff, and your husband (maybe less literally), and his stuff (definitely). No amount of yoga, or barre, or spin classes, or long runs will build muscle mass the way strength training does. For god’s sake, the bag you carry everyday is probably 15 lbs or more, and the kid, add another 20! No wonder your back hurts! It is imperative that women especially, train to carry the weight of their lives. And women, that is more than those 2 lb. weights you pick up at Soul Cycle. Get rid of the baby weights. Start with a weight that’s more than your diaper bag. Trust me when I say, your body will change, your mind will change, and the way you feel will change too.
Want to learn more about how to balance your hormone health through lifestyle and nutrition. All of my packages include nutrition counseling as well as a fitness component. The world is your oyster so I’m happy to customize all of my programs to fit your goals and concerns. Interested in learning more? Follow me on instagram or schedule your FREE intro call today!