If you talk to a woman in her 50’s for very long the topic of hormone health is bound to come up. In the second half of 2017 I put myself under the microscope with endurance exercise and lab testing to see what would happen. This post is about the results of those labs and the insights I gained from June to December.
First, let me provide a little background if you’re new to the Flipping 50 blog.
I’ve written, created, and promoted a proprietary exercise method for supporting hormone balance with Flipping 50. I’ve proven it works with thousands of women myself and thousands more through fitness professionals using the system with their clients.
I’ve poured over research and connected with hundreds of hormone health experts and women’s midlife health specialists in the last four years. The science and evidence are there. Hormone balance exercise is high intensity and short or longer and much lower.
Yet, there are those women who really want to exercise more. They aren’t suffering from high levels of stress or significant fatigue or health issues suggesting that they shouldn’t. Even I was conflicted a bit with a passion for endurance exercise that I’d abandon for four years in favor of something that fit a combination of hormone balance and time-constrictions.
When there is no weight loss resistance, no existing obesity or health concern, no insomnia compromising recovery, then what happens if a woman follows her passion for activity.
My friend and brilliant author and health expert Robyn Openshaw recently wrote, Vibe. The theories in it speak to me profoundly. They explain so much about the power of thought, energy, and elevating health and longevity. Complex at first glance, it’s a simple way to rethink energy in and energy out. When you apply vibrational energy to food, certain foods have the ability to raise your energy and others reduce it.
In part that explains to me why some people can eat barely any calories, of sugar-free fat-free chemical-laden foods while others consume hundreds more calories a day of healthful fats, antioxidant-rich foods and maintain or lose unwanted weight. It explains why someone who loves their work can do so tirelessly for hours while someone who hates what they’re doing will often be depressed and exhausted working far fewer hours with less responsibility.
Hormone Health Changes
So back to hormone health, much of the research suggests that long endurance exercise will reduce certain hormones and increase others creating a negative outcome on health.
Testosterone, for example will tank with long extended exercise and thrive best with short interval training sessions and strength training. Over my half year of training I see this in my results. The change though, is temporary. With the end of the race comes a return to short interval training sessions, heavier weight training that diminishes as you approach a long distance event.
My progesterone levels are slightly lower than at start. Again, this is not a surprise. Cortisol levels may have risen during training or recovery from long training. Cortisol suppresses progesterone, which can cause a tendency toward estrogen dominance. Though estrogen may not change, the relationship of estrogen to progesterone does. If you have estrogen dominance, you may be more likely to experience hot flashes and night sweats.
I don’t have any unwelcome symptoms like that. I’ve got a testosterone cream as a part of bioidentical hormones I began in July. I took a break from them beginning in November. Traveling three times every month this fall along with training, recovery, and meeting nutrition needs, the supplements were too much.
Resuming the hormones this week to bump levels back up along with the right dose of exercise, I suspect if I were to retest next month there would be a big improvement already.
Estradiol levels improved significantly and I’m certain I have the bioidentical hormones to thank for that.
A surprise I hadn’t counted on during testing, since my goal had been to look at adrenal stress, cortisol, thyroid, and sex hormones as well as micronutrient sufficiency, was liver enzyme elevation. Essentially, I had a non-alcoholic fatty liver based on my numbers.
Given my lifestyle, diet, low exposure to toxins, it was a mystery as to what might have caused it. Two years ago I’d tested as a part of research for You Still Got It, Girl and they were normal. Here’s what I’ve done since August:
- I took toxic-clearing supplements provided by my health practitioner at Boulder Longevity Institute.
- I began a higher dose of probiotics provided by Grace Lui
- I increased my intake of liver-friendly foods (apples, beets, grapefruit, green drinks)
- I stopped drinking from my tap and began drinking only pure filtered water.
- I eliminated large fishes (namely tuna) from my diet completely.
- I reduced my intake of nuts and seeds (products)
As a result both the ALT and AST (liver enzyme) numbers are down significantly.
Let’s talk cortisol. Testing was slightly different pre and post so there is a bit of comparing apples to oranges. Spot-checking level of cortisol and the patter of rise and fall in post test wasn’t provided to me in end results for some reason. However, what I can tell you is this.
My level of perceived stress is relatively unchanged. I don’t have a significant level of perceived stress. I have always had a sense it will work out. I have dreams and hopes and optimism. Like anyone I’ve had harder times but that kind of core feeling doesn’t evaporate. My energy (given cortisol is integral in hormone health for energy, focus, productivity even as it is named the stress hormone) is improved. There is some Flipping 50 chick that is back and better than ever. I wasn’t my best self completely and didn’t know it. This is the kind of “don’t touch me” that does not come from a supplement or pill box. You only get it when you’re doing things you love and they’re a little out of reach and scary.
While I don’t believe a year round, year-in year-out major physical endurance goals without breaks would be ideal, I do believe that if you love it, it’s worth looking at how you do it so you can include it.
Coaching the Coach
I manipulated my training program. I’ve been a marathon and triathlon coach and am trained Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach (CSCS). I reduced the volume of my training dramatically compared to training protocols I’d previously followed. I’ve had three different coaches during my previous 5 Ironman distance triathlons. Two I found were very similar and one simply dumped sheer volume – the absolute wrong means to get a midlife woman to a starting line healthy. My own training schedule was quite different. I reduced the volume of high impact exercise (running) that is hardest on your body by half.
It paid off. Physically I felt so fresh and relaxed going into the race, almost too good! There’s no doubt that doing the race itself was a challenge, but that is never not going to be the case when you’re doing a marathon after 8-9 hours of exercise preceding it.
I had no injuries, aches or pains during training. I had the usual soreness post-race. Within 48 hours I was feeling nothing more than if I’d had an intense workout any other day.
I was never sick during training, traveled nine times during the five months of training, and still managed to stay on track. It’s often cross training when traveling but what I learned when travel was at its peak during peak training is that it’s always possible to get exercise if you’re committed. Fear is a big motivator! Every workout in those last two months got more and more important. Five months out, missing a training day or moving it around is no big deal. But when you’re last long workouts have to happen for you to mentally feel ready, you don’t miss.
Perhaps more important in hormone health is the fact I didn’t get sick afterwards. You’ve experienced that right? Stress adaptation happens when you’re in the heat of the moment and is followed by a let down and illness afterwards. It didn’t happen on any level. I felt good before, during, and after.
I used afternoons after conferences or meetings ended to Uber to local pools while in California. I found local trails to complete 3 hours on my feet so that I had access to water and bathrooms. I hauled my bike and trainer 800 miles to optimistically ride outdoors and had to use the back up plan of doing 100-mile ride in my hotel room as it down-poured all day. I realized that even I had been letting myself off the hook when it’s not convenient. By making the commitment to locate pools, find trails, not only was I reaching my training goals and keeping promises to myself, I was experiencing more of the world when I traveled.
I’ve now taken exactly 31 days to recover my hormone health. This is a must if you’re 50 or you’re 20. I’ve been doing a December detox with increased green drinks, low levels of consistent exercise, and plenty of relaxation activities. I’ve got more of me to give because I’ve given more of me to me. There’s no question. I’m so thankful for the deeper emotional connections I have thanks to the joy in motion and the increased health that comes from riding your best vibration.
Your Exercise and Hormone Health
I don’t suggest that you do endurance challenges, or that you do short intervals exclusively. I do suggest that you have to co-collaborate with a coach, your signs & symptoms and respond to what works best for you. A lab test still requires a gut check test. Do you agree? Do you love it? Do you resist taking the pills? If the placebo effect works, then so does taking a pill resisting the very act of doing it. The answer is in what you really want and what you’re really willing to do for it. When you’re loving it and yourself, it doesn’t take discipline. It’s a gift.
It may take busting that old message playing inside your head, “who do you think you are?”
You’re a woman who influences 80% of the decisions, including health decisions, in her household. They’re watching. They’re learning how to care for themselves. Give you what you want for them.
The changes that you want for your body, and that influences hormone health, happens both from between the ears and below the ears.
Do you need support? Ready to take responsibility but not sure what you’re actions should be?
If you just need a little update on health habits for now look at this.
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