Female Hormones & Physical Activity
(The following is a guest blog post composed by Caitlin Evans.)
Hormones running wild may be an overused expression, but issues with fluctuating hormones can hit any woman. Depending on which hormones are in deficit and which are in surplus, they have a different effect on mental and physical health. Hormone imbalance can disrupt everything, ranging from your mood, sleep, and fertility, to metabolism and sex drive.
Hormonal imbalances are typically caused by:
hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia
an underactive or overactive thyroid
birth control or other medications
tumors and cysts
exposure to toxins, and other, less common causes.
While they can often be solved by attacking the very root cause, hormonal imbalances can also be normalized or neutralized with a healthier diet and physical activity. However, you have to be careful with your choice of physical activity, because some of them can actually make the situation worse.
How does physical activity contribute to hormonal imbalance?
There are several hormones that are affected by exercise in different ways. Each of them has a specific function in the body and each needs to be kept at the correct level to maintain the balance. Some, like the human growth hormone, are in charge of making the body healthy and strong. Others, such as cortisol, should be kept at a minimum so they can do their work when necessary instead of being triggered too often and getting out of control.
Here is a shortlist of the hormones that are affected by physical activity:
Serotonin: Exercising makes you happy – it’s simple as that. It releases serotonin, the “feel-good hormone,” and promotes good mood, better sleep, improved memory, digestion, sexual function, and a healthy appetite.
Dopamine: Physical activity increases the levels of dopamine in the brain, eases stress, and helps you feel more energized.
Estrogen: The imbalance and decrease of estrogen are frequent in women going through menopause, but they can also occur whenever your body is undergoing some sort of crisis. Getting your heart rate up by being active regulates the estrogen levels, and alleviates the menopause symptoms.
Testosterone: While it’s known as the “male hormone,” testosterone is present in the female body as well, and it is in charge of muscle mass and strength. Boosting its levels by exercising will also help slow down the aging process.
Cortisol: Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol is released as a response to stress and physical activity. It can facilitate the breakdown of protein and fats and their further transformation into glucose, which, consequently, fuels your exercise.
Human growth hormone (HGH): This is the most powerful fat-burner, and it is triggered by strength exercises.
Exercising through hormonal imbalances
As we’ve already mentioned, not every type of physical activity has a beneficial effect on hormone balance. Experts recommend a typical combination of cardio and strength exercises, but it’s important to adapt them all to your condition and abilities.
Hiking, for example, has multiple perks for women going through a hormone turmoil. Besides being a moderate yet challenging physical activity, it also gives you the opportunity to spend some time in the fresh air and absorb the nature around you. But if you’re just getting started with hiking, don’t rush into without first getting to know all the specific requirements concerning equipment and safety.
Aerobics, Pilates, dancing, and jogging also make good choices if you’re in search of moderate yet amusing physical activity. As for the strength training, you can handle the shift in hormones by adopting a workout routine that supports good pelvic floor health, bone density, and muscle mass. Some of the recommended exercises are Kegels, glute bridges, squats, and resistance training.
Tips for more successful training for women
If you have a problem with hormones, you’re probably concerned about a couple of things regarding your workout routine. So here are some tips that will help you “jump into it”:
Adjust your exercise regime to your cycle. The female cycle is between 28 and 35 days long, and it’s comprised of three phases (follicular, luteal, and menstrual). The most intense workout should take place in the first phase. The luteal stage is reserved for moderate intensity, and you should take things slowly during the menstrual phase.
Be consistent but flexible. Set a goal for how much exercise you want to get each day, but cut yourself some slack if there are moments when you can’t handle the strain.
Warm up, stretch, and cool down properly.
Don’t rush things; focus on steady progress.
Look out for signs of fatigue and give yourself time to recover.
When the workout wreaks havoc on your hormones
Most physical activities contribute to hormonal balance, but some should be practiced with care and moderation because they can actually lead to cortisol spikes and excess adrenaline, thus affecting the delicate balance of your body.
Taking running, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and CrossFit too far can be especially hard on women’s hormones. The stress placed on joints and the adrenaline output can trigger thyroid dysfunction, cortisol imbalances, and more wear and tear.
Excessive physical activity is also believed to have a negative effect on progesterone, a hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, which is why it can lower fertility in women.
When you think that your physical activity may be too excessive for your hormones, listen to your body and look for warning signs, such as:
sudden and extreme weight loss
low blood pressure
irritability when hungry
After reading this last paragraph, you might feel like you want to give up on exercising. But don’t forget that the benefits far outweigh the potential risks. You’ll make the most of your physical activity by following the tips above and approaching exercise with moderation and care. So don’t give up – give your hormones the boost and regulation they need.
Caitlin is a bookworm and recreational dancer. She is also a medical student in love with science in all its forms. Her fields of expertise could be summed up in health, nutrition, and well-being related topics. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu, and hiking. To see what Caitlin is up to next, check out her Twitter dashboard.
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