Muscle is an endocrine organ – Muscle is HRT for Women 40+

You likely have either a strong opinion, a fear, or curiosity about HRT for women. Let me assure you that this episode isn’t referring to something you take as a pill, a cream, a trochee, a shot, a pellet, or a patch. 

Said like that, this is much simpler! Like my friend, and community favorite, Magdalena Wzelaki of Hormones Balance has directed for years, you can cook and eat for hormone balance. As another podcast guest, Dr. Mindy Pelz, and friend Cynthia Thurlow share, you can eat within a certain window of time for hormone balance… you too can use strength training and other exercises to create hormone replacement solutions. 

Let me say this… you could be using or abusing exercise and its effects on muscle. Stay tuned to this episode. My hope… it’s empowering. So that no matter what your choice or why on HRT for women, or yourself, you have an option right now. 

Questions I Answer in this Episode 

  • Why the simplest solution for HRT for women is overlooked (men too)
  • How muscle functions “as if” it were an endocrine organ 
  • What influence muscle has on insulin, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone and thyroid 
  • To a lesser extent in this episode, how those hormones also influence muscle 

Muscle is HRT. The way to muscle is through strength training. Strength training is HRT. Strength training and exercise overall can be done in a way to support your hormone balance. Yet, it’s important to say, you can also experience what women often do starting HRT, and that is the frustration of testing, trying, and testing again to get the “cocktail” of replacement right. When your status changes, all the integrated parts change. Your stress, your sleep, your diet, your habits, your exercise… or the peri to post menopause transition… all alter the effectiveness of your hormones. 


Still listening/reading? Good… let’s do this. 


Once a woman doesn’t have the same level of estrogen and progesterone she did, building muscle makes a big difference in the way she ages. If you’ve been lifting weights, you’re already aging better than your non-lifting peers. Look around you, can you see it? 


Weight lifting takes up where estrogen left off, if you:

Lift to fatigue

Recover between (including the rest and the protein and sleep) 

By exchanging endurance exercise (chronic cardio) for strength you offset cortisol. 

Cortisol has an uptick when estrogen falls. That means, women no longer have the muscle-stimulating effects of estrogen AND they have the deleterious effects of cortisol breaking down their muscles further.

When you do chronic cardio, cortisol rises during exercise WITHOUT the subsequent fall that we associate with feeling better, reducing stress levels. So you’re potentially causing muscle wasting. 

When you lift weights you don’t have this cortisol response. For a minute or less elevate cortisol. Then you put the weight down and recover. It’s a perfect use (and no abuse) of cortisol. The same is true for high-intensity interval training. 

No Muscle More Fat

Loss of muscle means a gain of fat. A midlife woman’s body is already easily producing more fat to produce more hormones.] By default, even if fat isn’t gained, the percentage of body fat goes up. But in minutes- or so it seems for many women – your metabolism slows (not because it must… but because she may have this first wake-up call that she hasn’t been eating enough protein, sleeping enough, or doing enough or the right kind of strength training. She will gain fat.

Even if her false golden idol scale says she hasn’t gained weight, she has changed her body composition such that she doesn’t have metabolically active tissue anymore. She will gain weight, and it will be 100% fat. 

Many women haven’t thought about it like this.

Have you? 

HORMONES & Muscle | The Exercise Role

Estrogen and progesterone levels play a big part in glucose regulation. A high percentage of women become less insulin sensitive or said otherwise- insulin resistant because they’re eating the same as they’ve always done, exercising the same as they’ve always exercised and it’s not going to work the same. More muscle acts like a bigger sponge for blood sugar. Then each time you move that muscle – in daily activities of life, in walking, and in intentional exercise,  creating muscle is HRT for Women 40+. It’s not giving extra estrogen and progesterone, but it’s helping take up where estrogen left off and where insulin would have to take over, with its negative effects. (Progesterone, BTW, responds well to certain foods, and making sure you’re not going too low on carbs too often is a big part of balancing this hormone). 

How Can Exercise Negatively Affect Hormones?

Women who revert to cardio, cardio, and cardio are also potentially elevating cortisol with endurance activity. More pronounced even if they’re already stressed, sleep deprived, or eating too little protein and carbs to fuel. This is at that moderate level they’ve been led to believe (even we as fitness professionals have been led to believe, is best). 

With less cardio and more strength training + low-level exercise, + anaerobic work (getting breathless) -when appropriate, a woman stands a chance at improving her life. 

Strength training and HIIT also have a positive (and not negative) effect on testosterone and growth hormone as well as cortisol. 

Resistant Exercise as HRT for Women 40+ and Mood 

Then there’s mood. A recent study in the Journal of Physiology (Jan 2023) found that high intensity has a far greater effect on the BDNF factor in the brain. Studies in the recent past (excluding the pandemic) showed high-intensity high-impact studies done on postmenopausal women to be not only effective in bone density benefits but also researchers discovered something. They said in the discussion that the participants liked HIIT. Compliance and adherence rates were high, and the exercise had notable favorable effects on mood and sense of accomplishment.

These are all related to serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and of course endorphins. More muscle enables more motivation to do other activities that bring each of these as well. 

Muscle truly is hormone replacement therapy without any negative effects. You don’t have to remember it every day, just twice weekly like an appointment. AND… you get all the positive side effects. 

Motivation for Muscle-Enhancing Hormone Balancing Exercise?  

Look, even now… at 59 I am not as motivated to exercise simply because I’m going to age well and function well and feel good at 85. What gets me off the couch or away from this d#*@ keyboard…. Is… feeling good today. Looking good… today. And you get that… as well as your future self. 

Imagine if you had better body composition, better sleep, no belly fat, good gut health, your balance and mobility of a 30-year-old… because you’d started lifting weights (effectively) at 30. Well, your 85 or 95 yr-old self is going to ask you WTH  you were thinking if you don’t start now. 

We can argue about body weight vs free weights or suspension tools.. You can ask me about Pilates, but nothing… nothing is going to compare to the benefits of lifting heavy free weights (even if you add a few machines). Start light, progress wisely, and you’ll find your sweet spot for the ability to progress without risk.

I can guarantee you, without maintaining and gaining muscle, you will age sicker, fatter, and weaker than if you’re lifting. We’ve seen it in science for decades. It’s too common knowledge to ignore in 2023 and beyond. 

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