Hormone Balancing Fitness
In this post I include the intel on 1) hormones that balance each other 2) hormones that influence energy and your exercise (ability and results), and 3) how your exercise influences your hormone balance, and a 4) quick summary of how to modify exercise to support the hormones mentioned.
Note: this post includes what happens IF you choose not to change things with daily habits and exercise. The research included studies what IS. Consider what happens if you don’t do what others have done and don’t accept what has happened in the past to be your future. If you don’t take on the “normal” “average” habits you won’t settle for “normal” and “average” results.
Important Hormone Relationships
We’ve gotten so good at generalizing. You may make statements like, “It’s my hormones,” or read or hear that hormone imbalance is to blame. But, you’re not a victim, there are things you can do. While you’re busy, while you’re working, traveling, being you. You don’t have to go to bed hoping for a good night sleep, fewer hot flashes, or more energy. You can make it happen.
If you’re ready to understand more about the hormones that need to be in balance with each other (and how that might happen with shifts in exercise toward a hormone balancing fitness plan) keep reading. There’s definitely an integration of many hormones involved in the energy, the weight, the way you think, but some hormones have a stronger relationship.
- DHEA and cortisol
- Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone
- Growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor type 1
In a Flipping 50 Café master class some time ago (and this recording is a bonus part of The After 50 Fitness Formula for Women) I addressed Adrenal Fatigue. Though adrenal fatigue isn’t recognized by all medical professionals, HPA axis is accepted. It stands for the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis.
Your endocrine, nervous, and immune systems interact. The endocrine system is hormone central. Your nervous system is related to your brain messaging everything else. Your immune system of course keeps you well or not and potentially all of them either decelerate or accelerate aging.
When you have HPA axis dysfunction your stress response isn’t working correctly.
That’s also referred to as adrenal fatigue.
What was a healthy dose of exercise isn’t when you’re experiencing adrenal fatigue. The hormone balancing fitness you need involves what I call “restore, before more.” Exercise that is optimal for you leaves you feeling optimally. That’s news to a lot of women. It’s not punishment.
When your hormone levels are changing it’s not just all highs and lows. There’s a shift in the interactions among hormones. They don’t play as well together. Poor stress response results if your HPA axis can’t’ adjust to stressors. Stress causes more inflammation and oxidation. You age faster.
Exercise for burning calorie’s sake is the opposite of a hormone balancing fitness plan. In fact, that kind of focus can push you deeper into hormone imbalance. Sure, you may feel better temporarily but look for signs you’re overall not responding, feeling worse not better.
DHEA is produced by the adrenal gland and it’s a pre-cursor to the sex hormones. Similar to muscle mass which peaks at about 25, so does DHEA and it progressively decreases over time.
DHEA is one of the key hormones in balancing effects of cortisol. So think about this. You’re at a time in your life sandwiched between older adults and younger dependents, at a peak of your career or an apex of change in jobs, relationships, and status. There’s a bit more stress than ever before. And there’s less support in your system for dealing with it.
Faster than a Chunky Child Drops on a Teeter Totter
Age-related declines can disrupt the cortisol- DHEA balance. Guess what happens? You lose muscle among other things, like wanting to scream, sleep for days, or eat a bag of chips and wash it down with chunky monkey.
Guess what? Cortisol is a bitch. She doesn’t experience declines with aging. This is a perfect storm, right? What can appear to be higher cortisol levels as we get older could in fact be the declining DHEA to balance it. It’s not higher than it was it’s just higher relative to other hormones that are now lower.
More bad news
You don’t just lose muscle mass easier when cortisol is higher relative to DHEA. You lose bone density and your marbles. Yes, You lose cognition, memory, and ability to focus. We’re all calling it brain fog or menopause mind. It’s got science behind it.
The change in the ratio between estrogen and other hormones (progesterone and testosterone) alters your metabolic, physiological and neurological systems. The result? Your metabolism slows, your body composition changes for the worse, and you can’t remember where you left the phone (in your hand).
Estrogen loss plays a part in greater inflammation, less muscle, memory loss and poor stress response (compared to younger you or to same age men).
Progesterone and estrogen are ideal at a similar level. Cortisol however when higher (or relatively higher (see last section) blocks progesterone. So your calm, serene side has gone to Tahiti. Without you. You’ve got “estrogen dominance” even as estrogen levels are lower than in your past. High estrogen, high cortisol, and insulin make it easy to deposit fat right in the middle.
But the good news is, hormone balancing fitness can support estrogen and so too can certain things you eat. A couple tablespoons of ground flax seed daily can help you get rid of excess estrogen as can adding fiber to your diet, for example.
This hormone declines steadily with age. Loss of muscle and accompanying strength are due to waning testosterone. So too is decreasing libido.
Here’s the scoop though. Declining levels of testosterone are a result of declining health more than the opposite. Your health and libido potentially are not declining because of testosterone lows. If you aren’t taking care of yourself or working on intimacy intentionally, you’ll suffer more than most.
If you think you’re “pretty healthy,” consider this. Do you really rest fully? Have you defined what “healthy eating” is for you now vs. in the past? Is your exercise something you love? Do you make time for friends and fun? What makes you truly happy? Is it into your life regularly? Self care goes beyond not being sick.
Flip: Some research shows age had no effect on testosterone levels but by comparison obesity did. Lifestyle factors (like strength training) play a part in what happens to your hormone balance.
You’re not a victim of your hormones as much as your hormones are victim of your lifestyle habits.
You learned things. You learned them decades ago and they may not be true any more. You acquired habits. But you’ve not learned the science that helps you replace those habits with better things.
The Question Lingers: Is Age Just a Number?
Unfair treatment of the response to that question only looks at polls and surveys of a decline that’s happened in now 65-74 year-olds or those over 75. That means only that their lifestyle habits – what every they were – contributed. I think it’s fair to say that they didn’t have the science we have to day. They did the best they did with the knowledge they had.
But you, girlfriend, have more and better and we know that aging is either accelerated or decelerated based on your daily choices.Every single one of them matters.
For more muscle (and not fat) you need growth hormone (GH). Growth hormone is secreted and stimulates insulin-like growth factor type 1 (IGF-1). They work together to prompt muscle growth. IGF-1 is responsible for muscle repair.
That’s important. In You Still Got It, Girl! I first pointed out that one of the biggest challenges women flipping 50 have is their own mind. The solution to better fitness is not more exercise, it is in fact better recovery after adequate exercise stimulus.
If you don’t have enough IGF-1 you may be tearing down, breaking down and not repairing muscle in every workout. Thus, even an exerciser can lose muscle – potentially faster than a non-exerciser.
Both GH and IGF-1 decline as you age. This is partially the cause of frailty. Sarcopenia is the term used to describe muscle loss associated with age.
Cortisol and GH
Cortisol is up remember? It has a poor effect on body composition. While GH has a positive effect. Researchers have connected a strengthened effect of GH in the presence of cortisol. This has a huge impact on your ideal exercise routine.
Your ideal routine imposes calculated stress (cortisol-inducing) on your system while negating the negative effects of too much or blah-blah exercise. Using high intensity intervals (for short durations) and weight training has the most optimal effects on GH (as well as testosterone). What sabotages your exercise and hormone balance?
If you’re still doing an “hour of power” on the dreadmill or hours on the Stairmaster or elliptical every week, flip your routine. Short higher or short lower intensity cardio and short high intensity (heavy is best; to fatigue with lighter weight is second best) resistance training does the most good.
Your Hormone Balancing Fitness Plan
- Get the right (not the textbook) exercise and the right sleep (exercise can help with sleep) for optimal GH production.
- GH as well as estrogen are positively influenced by aerobic exercise and resistance training. Testosterone is most positively influenced by heavy resistance training.
- Testosterone benefits someone from High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). On the other hand testosterone levels are hurt by endurance training.
The positive effect that the RIGHT exercise has on hormones can offset age-related hormonal changes.
- GH and testosterone both benefit from heavy weight training. If you safely can, introduce weights and progress. Resistance training is a key part of hormone balancing fitness.
Your plan in action:
Resistance train twice a week. Start light and progress over a period of weeks (up to two months). Reach fatigue in each set. Collectively consider your bone and joint needs, history of exercise or injury, conditions, stress level, nutrition adequacy, and sleep in designing an exercise program. Seek support of a hormone balancing fitness expert if this is beyond your scope.
Reduce or eliminate long endurance sessions lasting an hour or more. Shift toward 1-2 short sessions of high intensity intervals per week complimented by low to moderate short activities.
Create a hormone balancing fitness plan you will enjoy. Include activities you love.
If you’re tired every day take a full week to restore before more. Move but don’t exercise. Get your sleep, stress, and nutrition dialed in. At the end of a week, assess. Continue the restore if you don’t feel better. Gradually begin to strength train in small regular doses first when you add more.
To offset muscle loss that would happen if you weren’t making the shifts above, and to amplify positive results, protein is a must for older adults. Read more about your protein needs now derived from 10 recent studies.
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