During this Heart Health Month post, I look at the hormones and heart health connection. It’s no secret that you are an integrated being. The health of your bones is related to hormones. Your fat storage and fat burning ability are related to hormones. Your muscle definition is related to hormones.
Your heart health too is related to hormones.
There are over 70 hormones in the body. If any of them are too low or too high you have imbalance. It might seem logical we’re always in some kind of imbalance, right? How can 70 hormones always be well behaved?
But some have a bigger impact than others. The rate and speed of damage from hormone imbalance depends on which hormone and how much it’s out of balance. Some matter more than others and some affect other hormones causing a cascade reaction.
High estrogen levels are most related to your risk of heart disease.
Yet, it’s integrated. Every hormone is influenced or influenced by another. Just as exercise is influenced or influences hormones.
Exercise for many of us is the catalyst for making other positive health-impacting changes. So in this post about heart health and hormones I address how the After 50 Fitness Formula (used in all my programs) is used in an If-This, Then-That approach.
You, of course, have to know two things:
1) What those positive changes are – you may need not more information, but more specific data about you. Whether you do this through a course, an elimination diet, a food sensitivity test, a stool test or a combination of these, (and I encourage more than one for many of the individuals who have “tried everything” but still don’t have answers), you have to define what “healthy” choices are for you in the right now of your life.
2) What exercise supports hormone balance based on your signs of imbalance- whether you’ve tested with lab work or not. I very recently was surprised to be asked whether “extensive lab testing” needed to be done to tell you the status of your hormones. The answer is no!
Your body doesn’t lie. If you’re not digesting well, you’re losing your hair, you’re tired all the time, you’re hungry right after meals, you’re craving sugar or salt, you can’t remove belly fat even with exercise and healthy eating… these are all signs and can all be usedto adjust your habits for more natural hormone balance.
Exercise more and harder is the intuitive response for both too many trainers, and women who aren’t getting results. That “do more of what’s not working” approach will make matters worse. From hormone imbalance you can go to adrenal fatigue and complicate matters with thyroid disruption, if you don’t listen and respond.
With a little understanding about your hormones, your hormones and heart health connection, and how to achieve a better natural balance, exercise can be an integral part of your overall health. Without it, you could be unintentionally be doing harm.
Cardiovascular disease rates increase significantly after menopause and becomes the number one cause of death in women. The need to have adequate and balanced estrogen levels becomes especially important.
Some of the research does suggest negative effects of hormone therapy. You need the full story though. Non-oral estrogens don’t result in the pro-coagulant effect. Natural or bio-identical (not synthetic) progesterone doesn’t interfere with beneficial effect of estrogen in blood vessels. Estradiol and progesterone therapy can have beneficial effects on lipoprotein and cardiovascular health.
Cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are the most important pieces of heart health. Positive change in estrogen happens by improving cortisol and progesterone.
Progesterone is important for helping balance testosterone and estrogen, and it’s important in strengthening the heart. While getting breathless does help the cardiovascular system and heart muscle, so too do you need to think about what happens at the cellular and hormone level.
Food and exercise both affect your hormones. It’s pretty clear there’s no neutral: the right food helps the wrong food hurts. Consuming foods with hormones in them (whether added or the animals were fed them or not – since the animal itself has hormones) can negatively affect your levels. Gut health alone is not the only reason to reconsider your milk and dairy consumption.
Optimal progesterone levels support optimal cortisol levels, which in turn support the body’s anti-inflammatory process. That is especially important in cardiovascular disease, which is initiated by inflammation. Your hormones and heart health are as intertwined as that yarn around your high school boyfriend’s class ring.
A “progesterone steal” occurs when stress levels elevate (your perceived level as well as too much exercise, too little sleep, or a poor diet). That depletes progesterone stores since progesterone can be used to make cortisol when it’s needed. If your stressors are chronic and continued for a long period of time (hello, overachieving woman of 2019) this has a good chance of happening.
That sets you up for a hormone imbalance (estrogen dominance) caused by that low level of progesterone.
Progesterone has been credited to opening up blood vessels (less resistance due to bigger pathways means less blood pressure), reducing cholesterol and triglycerides, and it regulates collagen. If your skin is just not the same in spite of adding collagen in bone broth or a collagen powder, low progesterone may be a part of it.
Progesterone then is clearly a player in the hormones and heart health game.
Everything that supports your optimal diet, your optimal sleep will help create the sweet spot of cortisol, and balance blood sugars. If your cortisol is at adequate levels progesterone levels are positively influenced. Start there.
What’s the wonder drug for that?
Not “more” exercise but the right kind, the right time, and the right dose. In fact, long endurance training tends to increase cortisol (anything in fact over 75 minutes is more associated with negative affect on cortisol than positive) and decrease progesterone.
Meditation* and relaxation techniques through exercise or breathing sans exercise depending on your status support optimal cortisol. Walking in nature as opposed to a treadmill offers more benefit to your hormones. Leaving the cell phone behind and just being quiet in what’s recently been coined “forest bathing” promotes stress reduction.
That’s not to say that if you’re an exercise enthusiast you have to completely stop. That too is likely to increase cortisol for you. Temporarily (a few weeks) create a new challenge for yourself (focus on yoga, acquire a new skill as opposed to slamming your body with long or hard or both bouts of exercise) in order to support balance without going crazy.
Short high intensity bouts can be appropriate for you. Cortisol needs to be OPTIMAL, not non-existent. It’s supposed to be used for acute situations. We’ve just failed that in our always-connected, superwoman thinking lives. If you think you don’t need to rest, to recover, to take care of yourself… or that doing so is bad, you’re the girl-most-likely to… get dinged by fatigue and issues from real burnout.
That is, interval training for 10 or 15 minutes (plus warm up and cool down) and intense weight training (also short in duration with quality to-fatigue sets and repetitions).
The answer is not all yoga all the time. You are not a delicate flower or broken. It’s also not all intervals all the time. You need to assess several things. What have you been doing that’s not working? What are your signs and symptoms? Could you take a nap after you finish your cool down? Or do you have more energy all day naturally when you’ve exercised?
You have to know if your cortisol levels are too high (when they should be low) or too low (when they should be high) in order to navigate the appropriate exercise prescription. If you can’t get up in the morning (reduce your exercise intensity) or if you’re staring at the ceiling at 2am, or you’re unable to get to sleep and stop that monkey mind (try short bouts of high intensity) you have clues about the best exercise for you right now.
Realize that all humans get comfortable thinking about themselves in a certain way. You may identify with “I like to go hard” or “I’m competitive” or “I’m on the go all the time” and if you find yourself saying, “That’s who I am,” you’re attached to that. It’s defining you. What if you had a different definition? Would that be so bad?
To heal your hormone imbalance you may have to break ties to what you thought made you special.
Nutritional changes benefit cortisol too. Adaptogens, herbs that naturally offer hormone support, like Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, and maca can support optimal cortisol and progesterone levels. I use these, maca, most often in my daily smoothie.
You need testosterone for your heart too. Yes, your libido and romance are a part of that but low testosterone doesn’t just kill a romantic evening. It can increase cardiovascular disease and is closely connected to blood sugar issues (like insulin resistance, and diabetes).
For most women testosterone reduction is associated with inability to gain lean muscle, fatigue, and low libido.
Clinically, testosterone is given to female patients with chronic heart failure and shown to improve functional capacity, muscle strength, and improve insulin sensitivity without any negative side effects.
Vitamin D supports testosterone levels. Yet another reason to be sure you’ve tested and you’re supplementing appropriately for Vitamin D. I have clients who are in need of more than the daily-recommended doses for several reasons. If you’ve been insufficient for a long time or have other things going on – not limited to sun exposure, meet with a physician for recommendations. Taking doses of 5000 or 10,000IU a few times a week is not unusual. It’s important to be tested, have supervision getting a prescription level supplement if needed.
How Exercise Helps:
If you display symptoms of low testosterone levels you want to dump long slow endurance exercise in favor of short high intensity intervals. Limit that to a few times a week. Strength training should be based not on the time you spend doing it but that your workouts have adequate intensity. Hour-or more-long sessions are overkill for you. If you have intensity you can do more good in a half hour or less a couple times a week. The majority of my personal strength training workouts are 10-to-20 minutes. But I don’t put the weight down after a set until I’ve reached muscular fatigue.
Eat and Drink Well
Reduce your stress level to support testosterone levels. Eat the highest quality of calories. Dump or significantly reduce sugar and alcohol while you’re struggling with testosterone levels.
Your cardiovascular health is dependent on your hormone balance and exercise plays a key role in that. The balance of estrogen, cortisol, progesterone, and testosterone are important in heart health. The integrated nature of hormones means that targeting the right one or two hormones with exercise and lifestyle habits can create a positive affect on the overall system.
Exercise for hormones and heart health is more thoughtful and less intuitive for women over 50. The culture of work harder, do more, pain is weakness leaving your body, doesn’t align with hormone balance. It’s often a relief to discover less exercise is more rewarding.
What have you identified as your hormones to target with exercise changes? I’d love to hear from you!
Cortisol and adrenalin can cause illness and weight gain, even in the best of circumstances.
With a great life, great career, family, and home, nothing made sense for Christy Mattoon. She was suffering and struggling with an autoimmune disease. She weighed 300 pounds. Here’s how she went from getting sicker and sicker to healer.
Cortisol and adrenalin were wreaking havoc in Christy’s body even though her life was everything she’d wanted. Her past snuck up on her.
Doctors couldn’t solve Christy’s problem. She was getting sicker and sicker.
Questions Christy Answers:
Tips Christy shared:
We’re so familiar with cortisol and adrenalin as they relate to hormone changes, fatigue and overdoing it. In the Flipping 50 community it’s a common subject. Today’s episode is different. Cortisol and adrenalin from past emotional stress and trauma can still influence health outcomes now. You don’t even have to be aware of it or conscious of prior emotional stress.
If cortisol and adrenalin from current lifestyle or activity level don’t make sense for you, Christy’s message may offer hope.
The best place to reach Christy:
Where you can:Book a 30-minute appointment with her
You’ll also find Christy’s books:
Connect with Christy:
Long workouts make sense for long endurance events. That’s logical. Riding for six hours sitting on a two-by-four is not a party. Yet, it’s what happens in a bike race (and I use that word lmao… who “races” for that long? I like to think of this as a “human race”) so it can be easy to see why or how someone like me training for a long endurance event would want or need to go out and do a couple century rides (100 miles) lasting that long before the real event.
Yet, who has time for that? Though a few weekend opportunities exist, even they are rare. I’ve got a book to work on, clients, family visits and life happening too. Plus, I’ve got hormones. Sometimes they behave badly. That said, it’s not just about not having time. Maybe that’s Mother Nature’s way of saving you from cortisol wanting to ruin your midlife bliss.
So the answer is, volume can be cumulative. I can cut that down and do pieces of a workout over the course of a day or two days. The good news is that intensity goes up as time goes down. Hormones are happier with intensity and shorter duration. Breakdown, both mental and physical is reduced with shorter sessions. Recovery is faster because damage is not as significant as when you do long workouts.
In the end, whether you’re over 50 or not, training this way as opposed to long slogging it out, can be much better for fitness. (Unless of course, you’re a pro athlete, with the ability to think exclusively about workouts, naps, and nutrition.) Plus, there is never a minute when I’m not keenly aware that training for an event will never overshadow training for life.
If I were to give up strength training with heavy weight and sabotage bone health and muscle, though it may allow more sport specific focus, it would be detrimental to ultimate goals of loving the body I live in for as long as I’m taking breaths. I never want to sabotage the work I do day to day and the energy and focus I do it with to pour it all out in a workout such that I need to drag myself through interactions with friends, family, and clients.
I hope you feel the same about exercise energy and life energy. I shared a video over a year ago about how I train on many days. I don’t have 60 minutes to workout any more. I break this up into 20 minutes in order to get different fitness components in, or as now, to get a little more focus on endurance, but rarely do I focus long on one alone or have a big block of time that I give to exercise.
In fact, I did a round up of my midlife fitness pro colleagues and found they are the same! Those days of us doing a hour class and then jumping on a Stairmaster to do more, are long gone. And we’re better and have more energy, and less fat for it! It’s almost like Mother Nature imposed goals and busy schedules on us to protect us from ourselves!
If you’re a busy working woman, with potentially a commute, or work that comes home with you (as if going home wasn’t just a change of jobs sometimes!?) don’t wish it away (Oh, Elton), embrace it. A focused 20 or 30 minutes is better! Stop lamenting and start moving. If you just go into action and have a specific plan you will find fitness faster perhaps.
When I work with clients, one of the reasons they are most successful is the end of random “exercise” and the start of “training.” Give every workout (and rest day) purpose.
They’re addictive. That’s good and bad. Short intense workouts have the ability to provide more intense feel good hormones than do long workouts do. In fact, too much long slow can actually make you more depressed and cranky. Fatigue edges out the feel good stuff and you may not even realize it’s happening. A prior running partner had begun attending bootcamp for the structure of weight training when a home-designed program just didn’t work for her. Convenience was nice but she needed adult conversation (she was a teacher!), interaction, and the intensity that comes from working out in with others instead of alone.
Those were her words to describe the one or two times a week she was attending year round after she was “hooked.” She is right. It’s part of why popular high intensity bootcamps or cross fit programs could see a rise in injury rates. Please don’t think I’m bashing Cross fit. They’ve done a lot right in the community they’ve created, but that is a part of the problem. They’ve done it so well, it almost makes a Cross fit client crave the next fix. Multiple days a week of high intensity exercise breaks down muscle before it can repair again. Case in point, my friend has a chronic hamstring pull that prohibits her from running any more. As running was once her go-to for stress reduction and convenience, that’s kind of a big sacrifice.
So, enjoy the “high” with an awareness that your brain may want another “fix” sooner than your body will benefit.
If you are interested in starting your 2018 already fit, and private coaching is within your means, you want to do the work – you just don’t know what it is! Book a complimentary private session with me right now. If we’re a good fit, I’ll offer you $200 off private coaching if you begin before October 1, 2017. Together we’ll find your best exercise schedule workout-by-workout, your best exercise nutrition, and the lifestyle habits so you can make it easy to have the energy and reap the rewards. If you’re an action taker, let’s co-create a life full of energy and a body you love.
It’s March madness as I write this. How appropriate that you pull your dream team of hormones together to boost metabolism and get yourself on the path to knowing when which ones, how to nurture them, so you don’t have to sit on the bench.
Insulin’s job is to reduce glucose levels and promote storage of glucose, fat, and amino acids. This is not your friend.
You know what they say, keep your friends close and enemies closer. Glucose uptake during exercise increases by seven to 20 times over resting levels. Additionally, muscle sensitivity to insulin is increased even after a workout. Regular exercise can help you win insulin over.
Glucogon has the opposite effect of insulin. (aka, meet your new BFF). It stimulates almost immediate release of glucose from the liver. Low blood glucose levels stimulate it’s release. In part, this is why intermittent fasting helps some individuals increase metabolism (it may or may not be right for you).
Cortisol stimulates Free Fatty Acid (FFA) metabolism from your fat stores (aka bat wings, belly fat) Sounds good, right? The catch is this slow-acting hormone is backstabbing.
Just when you think you’ve got it figured out and you’ll just get that FFA stimulation going for a long time and lose that fat fast, the fact is elevated cortisol for prolonged periods is lined to:
It’s all relative. Marathon runners have been studied most for obvious reasons. But what if your marathon is a mile walk or a walk around the block? If you over do it and double your distance, for instance, doing too much too soon it will backfire.
The very thing you think is the solution to weight loss causes a decrease in metabolism from the loss of muscle due to breakdown and tissue wasting.
Growth Hormone (GH or HGH) is someone you should meet. She is a major player in protein synthesis. You can’t stop aging or the decline of GH that comes with it.
Short term Physical Activity (PA) stimulates GH. Are you recently getting started? You’ll get a bigger increase after workouts. Sleep boosts GH too. Solid sleep that allows you the deep sleep cycles will help you with GH most.
Testosterone may be a hormone you didn’t know you needed. Though it’s not a point guard, you do want to be boss at times, right? Lift weights with intensity for the best boost in testosterone. You need it to maintain muscle and go boardroom to bedroom with confidence. True, there are fewer studies on women and testosterone increases due to exercise. If you’re able to use this hormone to your advantage the bonus is more strength that will lead to the ability to do more.
Don’t miss these blogs about hormones if you want to learn more:
The best ways to get the steps to reduce insulin, boost glucagon, growth hormone and testosterone is the 28-Day Kickstart. You’ll unlearn old, sabotaging habits, and learn the right (and easy to live with) habits. Save your spot.