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Hormones and Exercise

Hormones and Exercise – A Close Connection

Hormones and Exercise – A Close Connection

I am sure this is true for most of you, if not all of you, that no matter how unmotivated you were to work out, once it gets done, you feel a whole lot better right? This increased feeling of energy and increased emotional well-being are definitely founded on the major changes that happen inside your body at the hormonal level. So what exactly does happen while you exercise and how are hormones and exercise really connected? Do the types of hormones released vary depending on the duration or length of a workout or the type of workout? I can say, that yes it does. I always found this topic very interesting and important, because it truly explains on a deeper level, why exercise is so important for our health. We typically judge exercise to be positive by looking at only the superficial effects of looking in the mirror or getting on the scale to see weight loss. But the benefits go deeper than weight loss and here we will get down to this.

Hormone Categories

Each hormone category has a different chemical structure, which means that they will bind differently to cell receptors in the body.

Just a quick and easy explanation of a cell:

Hormones and exercise - cell

  • Each cell has a plasma membrane which is like it`s “shell” or its physical barrier;
  • The plasma membrane protects the cell from the outside environment;
  • The plasma membrane allows for the activities that take place in the cell to be separate from the rest of the body;
  • Inside the cell is the cytoplasm which is made up of fats and proteins.

I just wanted to mentioned his because each hormone category below, has a different capability of being able to cross inside a cell or not and this is because of the contents of the cytoplasm.

1. Steroid

  • Steroids LOVE fat, which means that they can travel easily through cytoplasm and therefore can bind on receptors inside the cytoplasm.
  • Examples of steroid hormones include estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

2. Peptide

  • Peptides HATE fat so they can not freely cross the plasma membrane and so they bind to receptors on the surface of the cell.
  • Peptide hormones include insulin.

3. Amines

  • Amine hormones are derived from amino acids.
  • Amine hormones do not all share identical properties and have properties common to both peptide and steroid hormones.
  • An amino hormone example is adrenaline.

Anabolic vs Catabolic

I am sure you have heard these terms thrown around often, because they are commonly referred to when categorizing types of exercises.

When a trainer says that an activity is an anabolic exercise, this simply means that it is an exercise aimed at building muscle. Anabolism not only helps muscle tissue grow, but it maintains a healthy state and healthy bone density. To reach an anabolic state, you have to weight train at the right intensity, and eat the right foods and get proper rest.

On the opposite end, any activity that is catabolic, breaks down muscle. This can happen when a marathoner does not eat enough and the muscles are broken down to get more energy or when you over-train.

So now, understanding these terms, there are hormones that are either anabolic, which means they help build new tissue, or catabolic because they play a role in breaking tissue down.

|This makes sense when you think of the role of “steroids” because they are used by body builds to improve performance and increase muscle mass.

Top 8 Exercise-Related Hormones

Insulin

In my article discussing blood sugar, I explain in more detail the role of insulin in the body. But for a quick summary, insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, and is released in response to an increase in blood sugar in the body. The levels of blood sugar in your body called glucose, rise and fall depending on what you eat. It is recommended to not eat high glucose inducing foods, such as specific carbohydrates with a high glycemic index and sugary foods.

Insulin is released to help regulate the levels of blood sugar and store healthy level of excess glucose as energy for later use. But if there is too much glucose in your system, your body will store fat. This can lead you to becoming insulin resistant meaning that your body no longer responds to insulin further increasing weight gain and the vicious cycle will continue.

Insulin & Exercise

Many factors affect hormone levels and this is no different with physical activity, so this is just one factor that plays a role.

The effect physical activity has on your blood sugar will vary depending on how long you are active, your fitness level, timing of workout, type of physical activity and certain health issues one may have, such as diabetes.

But no matter what, living a sedentary life and not being active increases the risk of many health issues. There is a wealth of evidence that clinically proves that high levels of habitual physical activity are associated with lower incidences of obesity, the metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. (1)

Physical activity can lower your blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after your workout by making your body more sensitive to insulin which means that insulin can be more effective in regulated blood sugar levels. The muscles will intake glucose up to a rate of seven to twenty-fold faster during exercise, causing insulin concentration to decease with increasing intensity.

Research shows that exercise needs to be consistent and habitual for your body to maintain a high level of insulin sensitivity and that eating healthy, before and after a workout, will largely effect the exercised induced insulin sensitivity.

This makes me think of some of my female colleagues, who will say “Now I can go treat myself to a danish” after a hard workout. This high sugar and high glycemic food item, will definitely cause a glucose spike and decrease the hard-earned effects of exercise, let alone, gain back all the calories and more, than what you just burned! It is not worth it!

And the positive effect of training on insulin levels, have been observed in both resistance training and endurance training.

Irisin

I actually had never heard of this hormone myself, even having obtained a certification on health coaching just a few years back. It seems that this hormone has been recently discovered and is literally referred to as the “exercise hormone”. There are many studies on this protein hormone today, and it has also been referred to as a fat-burning phenomenon.

Personally, I love the sound of that:)

What does this hormone do? Researchers found that irisin helped turn white fat into brown fat, which is good for the body.

But what is brown fat? Brown fat helps regulate your body temperature when you get cold and research shows that brown fat cells utilize fat in the body for energy. So another way to now produce brown fat is through exercise and not just when you are cold as a way to self-regulate your body temperature but also when you exercise.

Irisin & Exercise

Most types of exercise will increase irisin, but more studies suggest that endurance and strength training may be the most effective.

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) & Fibroblast Growth Factor 21 (FGF21)

FGF21 and HGH are both peptide metabolic hormones that are induced in response to fasting. They also play a very important role in metabolizing glucose and fat.(2)

In a new study published in the scientific Journal of Clinical Investigation — Insight, researchers showed that cardio training on an exercise bike causes three times as large an increase in the production of the hormone FGF21 than strength training with weights having lots of positive effects on metabolism. (3)

This is consistent with other research regarding the HGH, that says that High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), or other high intensity training such as heavy strength training or explosive power training stimulates HGH.

Testosterone

Hormones and exercise - testosterone

Testosterone the steroid hormone, is typically associated with just males, but it is also found in women at lower levels. Very active women or professional women athletes, will have a higher level of testosterone than the average female, because testosterone is also produced in response to exercise induced damage to muscle tissue.

Testosterone & Exercise

Higher testosterone levels are associated with maintenance of healthy weight and high muscle mass. This means that doing both cardio, particularly high intensity cardio, and heavy weight training are the best ways to increase testosterone levels.

According to Dr. Jadick, it is recommended to lift weights for 30 to 45 minutes two to three times per week and do cardiovascular exercise or HIIT on the other days to promote the best results.

Estrogen

As us women most likely know, this is our our primary sex hormone, and it mainly responsible for the regulation of the female reproductive system and menstruation. High levels of estrogen is bad for our health, while at lower levels it is healthy and necessary for our body. Too much estrogen has been link to cause breast cancer.

Estrogen & Exercise

It has been shown in studies, that regular exercise decreased estrogen levels significantly, and even more so, when activity levels are at a higher intensity. Regular exercise is one of the best things all women can do to keep breast cancer risk as low as it can be.

Cortisol

Hormones and exercise - cortisol - stress

Cortisol is a catabolic steroid hormone and everyone knows this as the “stress hormone”. I discuss the role of cortisol and stress in more detail in one of my previous articles. And if you read this article, you will understand that cortisol is a tricky one, because it is actually a necessary hormone, that helps us combat short term stress. So without it, we would not be able to adapt or respond appropriately to stress. But it also becomes toxic when levels are high for a long period which unfortunately, in today’s world, is often the case.

Cortisol & Exercise

The same holds true with cortisol in regard to it being stimulated by exercise. Cortisol’s’s function when exercising, is to help break down fat and protein, to sustain long periods of exercise when the body runs out of glucose. So again, at moderate levels, cortisol is good for us and helps our performance.

However, exercising for too long can elevate levels of cortisol too high, that cortisol will have negative effects by catabolizing (or break down) muscle protein for fuel instead of conserving it to be used to repair damaged tissues.

Endorphins

These are those very important chemicals that can make us happy or sad. Endorphins have been long known to give you the feeling of euphoria and help you deal with stress and pain. The two main chemical endorphins are:

Serotonin: is the feel-good chemical released by the brain.

Anandamide: is the one that helps regulate stress.

There is no denying that endorphins are released when exercising, and this may be why many people who train regularly, interpret the “pain” they are suffering through an intense work-out as a positive experience.

Many studies have shown that exercise can be used as a mechanism for the treatment of alcoholism, pain, anxiety, hypertension, bulimia, depression, anorexia nervosa and addiction. (4)

Endorphins & Exercise

Endorphins levels are found to be boosted through exercises such as biking, running and aerobics.

The Best Exercise Is?

Hormones and exercise

I wish I had the magic remedy for my friends reading, but unfortunately, no one type of exercise is your “winning-ticket” to hormone balance and prolonged good health.

As with food and everything else in life, balance and moderation is key. If you want to trigger all the exercise hormone benefits, just mix it up. This is also great when it comes to getting good recovery in between different types of training and giving rest to different muscles. Another important aspect is when we keep our training varied, we get less bored and are more likely to be consistent and train long-term.

I would set a goal, to really sweat, about 3x with some HIIT training or heavy weight lifting. On the other days, weight train for endurance or go for a brisk walk or go swimming. You can also vary your cardio training from a slow-paced steady jog to high intensity intervals. You can vary the length of the intervals and recovery intervals and also the speed of each interval, which all really change the intensity.

There are many ways to play around with the intensity of your workouts within a given type of training. You really need to know your body, and listen to it when you are feeling over-fatigued, soar or worn out. Finding the right balance of intensity level and frequency of exercise for your body is something only you can decide. Just be honest with yourself and do not cut yourself short, meaning push yourself out of your comfort zone, but do not impose more than your body can handle. Rest is just as equally important to benefit from exercise.

At the end of the day, JUST MOVE! Know that doing something is better than not doing anything at all. If you are not active right now, do not focus so much on doing the perfect work-out. This will just get discouraging because you will not know where to start. Just start with anything – something that you will enjoy and be consistent with. If that means simply going for a leisure bike ride or walk, or taking up a zumba class or dance class, then that is the perfect place to start.

Remember, intensity and quantity of exercise is relative to each one of us. So if you are just starting off, your body and mind will automatically feel the benefits of even low intensity exercise. And the great part is, once you start to feel these benefits, you will unconsciously want more and increase your game:)

Send me your comments and feedback below please!

 

 

10 thoughts on “Hormones and Exercise – A Close Connection”

  1. Thank you for this really great post. It’s amazing how much exercise can help, not just with building muscle or shedding pounds, but also with regulating your hormones and creating other positive changes in mood. I try to exercise six days a week and I know for a fact that I feel so much better afterwards. Now that it is getting warmer, I try to get outside for a run as much as possible. The fresh air and exertion do wonders for me!

    Reply
    • Hello Steve,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to give me your feedback with regards to my article on hormones and exercise. Yes it really is a a great reminder to realize all the health befits that exercise really brings, even though we can not “see” them as easily as losing weight or building muscle. 

      I used to work out 6x a week as well. That is great that you can be so consistent. I felt though that my body needed more rest than when I was younger so I train 4 -5x per week. It was a bit of a mental struggle, and I would feel guilty for not working out and of course, I am not as lean as I used to be. But I know I have found balance and that my health at almost age 40 is above the average:)

      Yes it is a super great time to take advantage of warm weather. Even walking has great health benefits and those who find running too hard or intimidating, just need to get moving regardless of the intensity.

      Thanks again for your visit and support!

      Reply
  2. I have to say thanks for these explanations because for years I have heard these terms thrown around: hormone, insulin, anabolic, catabolic etc., and never knew what they meant and how they fit into my body processes. My gym coach uses them a lot. I also heard that the reason my body was not losing weight was because of my hormones. That statement didn’t mean a thing. Your discussion of endorphins and irisin etc leads me to believe that feeling of well-being is affected by these hormones. Is it therefore correct to say that hormones influence your state of mind? Is this where mind and body connect?

    Reply
    • Hello JJ,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to give me your feedback with regards to my article on hormones and exercise. 

      I used to work out 6x a week, sleep very little and was very stressed. I stopped seeing results with my training because I was over tired and this leads to hormone imbalance. So definitely yes, hormones can prevent weight loss if there is a huge imbalance in your system. In my article that discusses hormones and weight gain you can learn more about the direct relationship.

       Definitely hormones affect your state of mind and I know that no matter how tired I feel or bad day I had, a workout definitely helps me with my emotional state. There is a directs relationship with mental health disorders and being very sedentary. It is definitely part of the body and mind connection as is doing relaxation techniques like meditation.

      I hope you have managed to get support with the difficulties you were having with your weight loss?

      Thanks again for your visit and support!

      Reply
  3. Your article on Hormones and Exercise and the connection one has on the other was most interesting.  I don’t think that I have had that particular aspect of the exercise results pointed out.  As a late arrival to healthy living and exercising, I have enjoyed the feel-good result to exercise. Knowing that I am getting the right kind of exercise for what I need is a good habit for an ongoing lifelong habit.    

    We can make little changes easily, well, more easily than really big ones.  For someone who hasn’t been using weight training, do you have some easy at-home suggestions?  Is there really any value in the exercises that just use cans of food as a weight?  Or is it really worth it to invest in a set of lightweight hand weights to build up your strength?  Thanks, Sami

    Reply
    • Hello Sami,

      Thank you for reading my article and engaging with me regarding your personal experience. 

      I am always very happy to hear when someone has just starting implementing a healthy lifestyle. It is always hard to start but once you get that “feel-good” feeling you described, then it only gets easier.

      Honestly, it is hard to say that can of food is enough, especially if it causes no resistance for your muscles because you are very strong. There are always weighs to make things more difficult, like slowing down the movement or doing more repetitions but that can only go so far.

      If you plan to continue working our from home, even after the Covid 19 situation, I would suggest some resistance bands, one set of dumbbells (a medium weight for you) and a kettle ball. With this alone, and full body exercises like burpies, push-ups and squats and much more, there is a lot you can do. What I highly recommend, which is a little more costly (just over $100) but you can do so many things with, is the TRX. For $200-300, you can have equipment to maintain and challenge yourself for a few years for sure!

      Thank you again!

      Reply
  4. Thank you for the informative article helping me further understand how hormones and exercising are closely connected. I will admit I don’t work out as often as I should. Although I am often doing fairly strenuous work outside while working my job.

    However I have noticed on days while on vacation that I can begin to feel sluggish without proper exercise. Working out is a great way to regulate hormone activity. 

    Reply
    • Thank you Justin for your comments. Working a physical job can be even more of a workout that working out in a  gym. I would also imagine, that the strenuous activity you do for work is a functional type of exercise which makes your body stronger and more prepared for daily activities.  

      I totally agree with that because the hormones released during exercise do help with mood and energy levels. 

      I hope you gained some knowledge from this article and thank you again for reading.

      Reply
  5. Heloooo Cynthia, a big thanks to you for sharing this educating Post on hormones and excercise, indeed there is a close connection between hormones and excercises. Excercises are really advantageous and has so many benefits to human body. I have really learnt a lot from this post, thanks once again for sharing.

    Reply
    • Thank you Sheddy for being such a supporter of my website. I appreciate the time you take to read my posts and send me your comments. 

      Exercise is huge but for some, it is intimidating to get started. I really hope this article encourages people to just get moving, whatever it is. It does not have to be an advanced workout routine with fancy equipment.

      Thank you again and I am sure we will be speaking again soon. 

      Reply

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