Helping Your Body Feel Like it’s Supposed to: The Impact of Exercise on Hormone Health
Hormone health is inextricably linked to your major bodily functions, including metabolism, sex drive, mood, fertility and sleep. When these biological signals get mixed up, you can struggle to function or feel good. Luckily, there’s one nearly-foolproof way to help keep your hormones in balance: Exercise.
In fact, your muscles are an honorary part of the endocrine system, thanks to their communication with the brain, liver and fat tissue (as a part of metabolism). They also release hormones, allowing your body to balance out your endocrine system.
The best part? Achieving that perfect balance doesn’t mean spending hours in the gym every day. In fact, moderate exercise is usually all you need to keep your hormones in check.
Healthy hormone production = happy body
If you or a loved one have had a difficult time losing and keeping weight off, you may have suspected something else at play. While technically, keeping your caloric intake under your caloric expenditure each day should be a foolproof plan for losing weight, hormones often play a role.
Cortisol, for example, can cause massive issues within the metabolism, because it puts the body in constant “fight or flight” mode. When that response is triggered, the body tries to conserve resources—including glucose—to protect itself. Long-term cortisol imbalance can make it extremely difficult to lose weight. However, exercise helps regulate cortisol levels.
Weight loss is just one example of how healthy hormone production equals a happier body overall.
Estrogen production is another function that exercise can help regulate. As you probably know, estrogen rules a number of different bodily functions and characteristics, including menstruation and fertility—but many women have too much estrogen in their system, particularly those over 35. Exercise helps regulate the amount in the endocrine system, which not only regulates sex drive, menstruation and fertility, but also lessens the risk of breast cancer. It’s hard to argue with that!
Hormones stimulated by exercise
Exercise helps regulate a number of hormones. Here are 10 of the major ones that will affect your overall, daily health and happiness:
- Endorphins. Ever had a runner’s high? That’s thanks in part to endorphins, which are released during exercise to block pain and reduce anxiety.
- Estrogen. As described earlier, keeping estrogen at the appropriate levels is important in regulating secondary sex characteristics and functions as well as preventing breast cancer. Exercise to fight overproduction.
- Cortisol. When your cortisol levels are too high, it can make you anxious and affect your mood and motivation. Exercise keeps the body producing cortisol at just the right amount, so you can relax and focus.
- Insulin. Preventing insulin resistance with exercise can strengthen your liver function. This is best achieved with high intensity interval training (HIIT) and aerobic workouts.
- Testosterone. Testosterone is key for muscle growth, which increases your metabolism and boosts confidence. Women need the hormone just as much as men, too, so don’t worry that exercise will do anything but keep you in shape.
- Human growth hormone. HIIT is the best way to increase your levels of human growth hormone, which is responsible for building and maintaining healthy tissue. Eventually, you’ll want to pair it with weightlifting for maximum efficacy.
- Irisin. Never heard of irisin? You’re not alone. It was discovered in 2012 and is described as the “exercise hormone,” which turns white fat into healthier brown fat—the kind that can regulate body temperature. Studies show that endurance and strength training are the most effective for releasing irisin.
- Adiponectin. Diabetes is a very real risk for many Americans, but you can protect against insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes by exercising. Exercise helps regulate your adiponectin levels, which in turn regulates glucose and fat breakdown.
- Dopamine. Your dopamine levels are important because they can decrease stress and even depression. If you’ve ever had a runner’s high, you’re familiar with the powerful rush this hormone creates.
- Serotonin. If you’re having trouble sleeping or suffer from sleep apnea, you’ll be happy to know that exercise releases serotonin, which is key to a good night’s sleep—but it also improves your mood and sex drive, among other effects.
Here’s what to expect
As scientists continue to research the effects of exercise on hormone regulation, we might discover even more new hormones like irisin. In the meantime, starting a moderate exercise routine will have a nearly immediate effect on regulating all of your hormone levels.