April 25th, 2023
Exercise and Your Hormones: What You Need to Know
Exercise and its effects on our hormones is a widely discussed, often sensationalized topic
among exercisers and health professionals alike. Fertility, menopause, and sleep pattern are just a
few of the bodily functions supported by our endocrine (hormone messenger) systems. Simply
put, hormones are chemicals that control cellular functions and physiological reactions such as
metabolism, reproduction, and tissue growth. In exercise terms, hormones support fat loss and
the building of lean muscle.
At Nielsen Fitness, we believe in the importance of total health education. So what exactly do
you need to know about exercise and hormones to optimize your health? How dramatic is the
effect of hormone levels on exercise results? Below are a few of the important points to get you
Can Exercise Balance Hormones?
EPINEPHRINE (ADRENALINE) AND CORTISOL
Epinephrine (AKA adrenaline) and cortisol play many important roles in bodily functions, including stress response. When under distress, the brain tells the sympathetic nervous system to send epinephrine into your bloodstream, which elevates your heart rate and blood pressure: the ‘fight or flight’ response. Following this initial reaction, your body may release cortisol in order to maintain high alert in times of danger. In relation to exercise, aerobic activity has been proven to lower the body’s levels of epinephrine and cortisol, which can decrease feelings of stress.
Endorphins are another type of hormone released in the body in response to stress and/or exertion. They help relieve pain and promote a general sense of well-being, which is one of the main reasons why exercise can boost your mood. Ever heard the term ‘runner’s high?’ Well, that is partially the work of endorphins!
Testosterone is the main reproductive hormone in men, also found in women in smaller quantities. In relation to exercise, it is a steroid hormone responsible for muscle protein synthesis and the repair of muscles after exercise. Unfortunately, testosterone levels in men tend to decrease by an average of 1-2% per year after the age of 40. Low testosterone in men can lead to many symptoms including loss of strength and endurance, decreased fertility, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and difficulty in weight loss. Consistent resistance (weight) training has been proven to be one of the best ways to naturally boost testosterone.
To date, there are no clear recommendations concerning exercise and female fertility. That said, research implicates that women with a higher BMI may take longer to become pregnant and have a higher risk of various pregnancy complications. It’s also important to note that over-exercise can negatively affect ovulation and possibly decrease fertility.
Resistance training and cardiovascular activity are recommended to boost male fertility by decreasing the amount of testosterone converted to estrogen. Over-exercise can also reduce male fertility by irritating the prostate and lowering testosterone production.
In general, maintaining a healthy weight and participating in regular physical activity is recommended by health professionals to improve fertility in both men and women.
During menopause, the ovaries reduce their production of the female sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These are the hormones that allow women to become pregnant, but they also affect the skeletal system: when production slows down, weight gain, as well as a shift toward abdominal fat distribution, may occur. This can be due to estrogen’s effect on energy expenditure and appetite regulation.
“Research has found that post-menopausal women have greater central or android fat distribution, as well as greater visceral abdominal adipose tissue compared to pre-menopausal women (Wang et al., 1994 via ACE Fitness).” This is especially concerning, as excess abdominal fat puts you at greater risk for heart disease, liver disease, and diabetes. That said, with regular exercise and a smart diet, a healthy weight can be regulated and maintained throughout menopause.
The bottom line is that the nervous and muscular systems that regulate our hormones play important roles in determining the outcomes of an exercise program and influence many adaptations to physical activity. In general, regular exercise can help to balance your hormones which makes for a healthier body. That said, hormone regulation is a complicated topic to grasp and can be intimidating to tackle on your own. If you’re struggling to find the right level of exercise to maintain your body’s balance, contact Nielsen Fitness to build the right program for you.