Many see exercise as strictly a way of burning calories so they can lose weight. But many of the benefits of exercise come from how it affects hormones. These effects on hormones can contribute to weight loss and many other health benefits.
On the flip side doing the wrong amount or the wrong type of exercise can have negative effects on your hormones. When your hormones are out of balance, then it makes it much harder to lose the weight and keep it off.
What exactly are hormones?
Hormones are chemicals created in the body by various glands and organs. These glands and organs make up the endocrine system. The hormones are chemical messengers in the body that help to various body functions balanced.
The importance of balance
All hormones are necessary for the proper functioning of your body, but if levels are too high or too low then your body is out of balance. Two important hormones, leptin and insulin are discussed below, but if you want to know one of the root causes of obesity, it's very much related to the balance and interplay of these two hormones.
Which hormones are affected by exercise?
The hormones that are affected by exercise depend on the type of exercise. Cortisol, insulin, thyroid hormone, and reproductive hormones are all affected when we exercise.
The effects of exercise on hormones are both short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic).
Cortisol is called the stress hormone because its produced when your body is under stress. Your body will generally consider exercise to be stressful and produce cortisol, but for many types of exercise, the effect will be short-term.
Exercise can either increase or decrease cortisol levels. Low-intensity exercise will lower cortisol levels. High-intensity exercise tends to increase cortisol levels, but as long as you don’t overdo it, chronically high cortisol levels won’t result.
It's important to gradually increase the amount of exercise you do to keep cortisol levels from taking over.
Insulin plays an important role in the body by helping blood sugar be used for energy and for regulating the storage of blood sugar in the liver. It also plays a role in protein usage. Resistance training may slightly increase insulin levels but the bigger role of exercise has to do with insulin sensitivity.
Insulin sensitivity, that is your body’s ability to use insulin, is increased with exercise. But beware that if you are diabetic you should monitor your blood sugar during exercise. It can cause your blood sugar to drop too low and you may have a hypoglycemic reaction.
Both aerobic and strength training improves insulin sensitivity.
3. Thyroid hormones
Your thyroid hormones are responsible for controlling metabolism.
Exercise can cause short improvements in thyroid hormones but doesn’t seem to have any long-term effects, although exercise can improve several symptoms of hypothyroidism. Exercise can help to boost metabolism, increase energy levels, improve temperature regulation and improve mood.
Thyroid conditions can make exercise difficult so I recommend you start slowly if you’re not already exercising. Good places to start are yoga, walking, or resistance band exercises.
Leptin is produced by your fat cells. A low level indicates that you need more fat and tells your brain that you need to eat. A high level should tell your brain that you don't need to eat.
When you have too much leptin your brain might not receive the signal that you have had enough to eat. This is called leptin resistance.
Fortunately, exercise may help to reduce leptin resistance. And since it also helps to reduce body fat it will help to reduce leptin levels. But beware that too much exercise can cause leptin levels to rise.
4. Reproductive hormones
Testosterone is an important hormone for the growth and maintenance of muscles for both men and women. Resistance training will help to increase testosterone levels, but cardiovascular training will decrease testosterone levels. Since cardiovascular exercise has other benefits, it’s important to offset it with resistance training or try interval training which will have some of the benefits of both.
For the main female reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone, the effects of exercise depend on how much and whether you are still menstruating.
For women who are menstruating, too much exercise can result in changes to hormones which affect the menstrual cycle leading to a dangerous stoppage of monthly periods. Exercise will be most effective for menstruating women if it is coordinated with the menstrual cycle.
For women who are post-menopausal exercise can slightly increase estrogen levels and also can somewhat compensate for its decline. It can help to improve moods, maintain bone density and improve heart health.
What types of exercise are best for keeping hormones balanced?
When your hormones are no longer at the optimal levels for your body you have a hormone imbalance. Exercise plays a role in keeping hormones balanced, but also if done wrong can contribute to imbalances.
Just about any exercise can be part of keeping hormones balanced. High-intensity interval training (HIIT), strength training, cardio, yoga, and pilates all have benefits for improving hormone balance.
The key is choosing the right amount along with something you enjoy. In other words, keeping exercise balanced helps with hormone balance. Too much high-intensity exercise can have the opposite effect and cause increases in cortisol levels. Frequent steady-state cardio at high levels increases cortisol and decreases testosterone levels. Too much exercise can also affect female reproductive hormone balance to the point where menstruation can stop even in young women.
The key to the best type of exercise is striking that balance between high intensity and frequent-state cardio, start small and increase as you go.
A Note on Nutrition
Something else that is important to note that I haven't addressed yet is the importance of nutrition. If you aren't feeding your body the types of nutrients it needs to function, then exercise can actually work against you and your hormones.
It's important to feed your body the types of fuel it needs - and when you do this, you are mentally, physically, and hormonally ready to take on exercise! Remember, I can help figure out what foods work best for your unique body chemistry!
Choosing the right exercise to help balance your hormones is important! It's about striking a balance that works well for your lifestyle and your body. I'm a certified nutritionist but I'm also a holistic weight loss coach. This means that when you book a free assessment with me, we discuss you as a whole and figure out a plan that includes nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, etc. so that you can get back your zest for life.
I'd love to hear from you! You can easily book a no-obligation call by CLICKING HERE.