Updated: Nov 5
Whatever age you are, exercise should feature as a regular part of your lifestyle. Why? Keeping active encourages the body to maintain strength and dexterity as we age; allows us to improve our appearance and build self-confidence; and supports our cardiovascular, immune, digestive, respiratory and other systems within our bodies – including the endocrine system (which regulates our hormones). So exactly how does exercise affect your hormones and which kind of exercise is best for hormone balancing?
Throughout our lives, our hormones will have an impact on, and be impacted by, all of the interconnected systems within the body. We know that by maintaining a regular exercise routine from puberty onwards can help to keep our hormones happy, which in turn, keeps the rest of the body happy – however, we know that that’s not always easy! According to Government figures, only 61.4% of people in the UK over the age of 16 are physically active (engaging in 150 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity a week). Many people only start to exercise when they become unhappy with their appearance or experience a health scare. However, as is often said, it’s better to start late than to never start at all!
Dr Haleema Sheikh, hormone specialist at the Marion Gluck Clinic, explains, “If you are experiencing hormonal imbalance linked to PCOS, endometriosis, menopause or andropause, exercise can be used as part of a wider treatment plan to improve your hormone balance. A regular fitness routine suited to your physical ability can positively impact all of your hormones – not just your sex hormone levels, but also others such as serotonin and dopamine – which means that you can improve both your physical and mental health and wellbeing from the get-go. You can also use exercise as part of a preventative measure for hormone imbalance, or in preparation for the menopause.”
The Best Forms Of Exercise For Hormone Balancing Any form of exercise that suits your physical ability will contribute to better hormone function. However, if you are new to exercise, here are some ideas to start you off:
Resistance training – also known as ‘weight training’, this form of exercise uses weights to tone and build muscles as well as improve your cardiovascular system. You can use small weights (even a bottle of water can work!) or resistance bands. You may even use your own body weight to do exercises such as squats, lunges and push-ups.
Walking – walking is a great form of cardiovascular exercise that is also easy on the joints. Try walking on an incline to burn more calories and get your heart pumping.
Pilates & Yoga – many people find that Pilates and yoga increases their flexibility and core strength. Both are also great for de-stressing as it engages your parasympathetic nervous system or ‘rest and digest mode’.
HIIT – if you don’t have a lot of time to work out, high intensity interval training (HIIT) fits an intense cardio workout into 10 to 20 minutes. Doing a HIIT workout at the right intensity can allow you to burn the same amount of calories that you would in a normal 45-minute workout.
How Does Exercise Affect Your Hormones? Estrogen Exercise and estrogen are strongly linked. This sex hormone supports bone health, collagen production in the connective tissues and skin, influences lean mass, and more. However, too much estrogen can actually increase the risk of injury and decrease fitness performance, so it’s important to find a balance. One study has linked aerobic exercise to improved estrogen metabolism. Participants also experienced a reduction in body mass and improved cardiovascular fitness, both of which contribute to the proper metabolisation of estrogen and other hormones. Testosterone Testosterone is known as the male sex hormone, and is commonly associated with building muscle in men. However, testosterone is vital for women too; it supports cognition, bone density, muscle tone and red blood cell production, and helps prevent cardiovascular disease. Lifting weights can help improve testosterone production. But don’t worry, they don’t have to be heavy! Any weight – even the weight of a can of soup – can be lifted in the right way to help build muscle mass and increase testosterone levels. Read our tips here for how to increase testosterone levels naturally. Serotonin and dopamine These neurotransmitters could be what gives us that feel-good feeling after exercising. Many mental health experts tout exercise as a mood booster, and while many systems may be at play for our moods to improve after exercise, serotonin and dopamine might be two large contributors.
Estrogen, meanwhile, could be the connection between exercise, and serotonin and dopamine. This is because estrogen is responsible for the regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain. As we exercise, estrogen is metabolised, and this positively affects neurotransmitter regulation as a result.
What Happens If You Don’t Exercise? It is crucial to avoid a sedentary lifestyle by doing at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. One main outcome of a sedentary lifestyle is weight gain, which impacts all areas of health, including your hormone function. Combined with an unhealthy diet, it becomes easy for your body weight (in particular, body fat) to increase.
Certain hormones are directly affected by weight gain. These include, but are not limited to: Insulin – responsible for storing and metabolising blood sugar, and fat storage and the conversion of fat into energy. Overeating can lead to insulin resistance, which makes it easier to gain weight.
Leptin – tells your brain when you feel hungry or full. Regularly eating processed foods and trans fats can lead to leptin resistance, which can result in overeating.
Cortisol – in some people, increased cortisol levels (usually as a result of too much stress) lead to overeating.
Ghrelin – tells your brain to seek out food, and is usually secreted when your stomach is empty. However, those who are overweight may find that they do not feel full or satisfied after a meal because they have developed a ghrelin resistance.
Unfortunately, weight gain can trigger a vicious cycle when it comes to your hormones. The more weight you gain, the more your hormone regulation is impacted, causing further weight gain. Poor hormone regulation also makes it more difficult to lose weight. The best way to break this cycle is to begin a healthy, consistent exercise routine and diet.
Where Does Exercise Fit Into A Hormone Balancing Plan? Exercise isn’t the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to hormone balancing, but it can definitely complement treatment. It should be used as part of a holistic treatment plan that encompasses all areas of your lifestyle to improve your overall wellbeing.