Exercise and The Art of Balance
Balance is tricky. It’s not a stagnant state. It is the constant reshuffling of different priorities to create harmony. One day that might mean french fries the next, more running than walking. What you need to know is that these activities - the eating and the running work in harmony to regulate hormones. And really, that’s what it’s all about - hormonal balance.
Hormones are involved in many of the many of the major aspects of your health including metabolism, weight, fertility, and mental well being. They control how you think, act, move, and feel. We’ve previously talked about your nutrition’s role in balancing hormones - you can read that post here - but what you may not realize is role that exercise plays hormonal balance.
We know that you know that exercise is an important part of your own self care. It goes deeper than just the benefits of helping you stay in shape or be fit though. The different hormones in your body react to different types of exercise, so it’s important to pay attention
Cortisol, the good ol’ stress hormone. This guy is made by the adrenal glands with cholesterol in response to stress whether it’s mental (work/family), physical (exercise/exertion/trauma), or environmental (toxins). Cortisol is most known as hormone that tells your to flee or fight a stressful situation, however it’s also involved in your normal day to day activities such as waking up, exercising, and selecting the right energy in order to meet the daily demands of your life. Issues arise when you have long term stress that leads to chronically high levels of cortisol. Because this hormone is involved in many other pathways that regulate metabolism, if it’s levels on constantly high, it could wreak havoc on your metabolism.
How exercise can help: Certainly, exercise helps reduce mental stress, but if you’re in a constant state of fight or flight, pay attention to the intensity of your workouts. Higher intensity workouts can lead to more stress and inflammation which in turn can lead to burnout or continuous injury. Trust us when we say that going hard all the time can do serious damage to your physical and mental state. Trust your body and allow yourself appropriate recovery. If you’re feeling amp’d up or really inflamed or sick, avoid the HIIT workout as this type of exercise raises cortisol levels. Instead, we recommend yoga or pilates to bring down the stress and cortisol levels. If you’re a person that exercises to the tenth degree everyday, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Mixing in low intensity days with stretching and light loads helps with recovery and reduces inflammation by balancing out cortisol.
Insulin is involved in the uptake and storage of glucose. When glucose levels are high insulin is released in order to tell the body’s cells to collect and store glucose muscle and the liver. When you have chronically high levels of glucose circulating in your body, two things can happen. One: your pancreas (where insulin is made) becomes tired and can’t keep up with the demand. This is called insulin resistance. Two: Your muscles and fat, cells become less sensitive to insulin signals, so they are unable to take in glucose for storage. This means glucose stays in the blood, increasing your risk for diabetes and/or metabolic syndrome.
How exercise can help: Most of your glucose is stored in your muscles so it’s ready to be used when you need it. High intensity strength training - e.g. lifting more than those ridiculous 2 lb dumbbells (don’t get me started) helps build muscle strength and quality via hypertrophy, which promotes the activity of those insulin receptors cells. This type of training along with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) have been shown to improve whole body insulin resistance and sensitivity by improving muscle quality. So, go beast mode and get those Michelle Obama arms.
Thyroid Hormone - Thyroid imbalance is becoming more and more common in women. It’s the main metabolic hormone that regulates energy, body temperature, growth and homeostasis. In order to work properly it needs to be converted to its active form. Interestingly, high cortisol levels can inhibit this action and those with under-active thyroid are at an increased risk for insulin resistance. We’re all just one big machine!
How exercise can help: Regular aerobic exercise can boost levels of T4 and T3, helping people who have low levels of hormones in the thyroid, such as patients with hypothyroidism or autoimmune diseases affecting the thyroid. Increased hormone production can, in turn, decrease the negative side effects of many thyroid disorders. For thyroid patients, moderately intense aerobic exercises can offer the health benefits of boosting metabolism and mood without stressing the body as much as intense cardio workouts. If you have a thyroid imbalance it is important to seek medical attention and talk to your doctor about how best to exercise.
Endorphins - “Exercise makes your happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands,” - Elle Woods. It takes 20 minutes of physical activity for endorphins to be released but they sure do pack a punch of smiles. Endorphins work to increase your tolerance for pain as well as trigger happy feelings - similar to morphine (and show me the person who doesn’t smile on morphine). If you want to build resilience and feel more positive about your life, just take 20 minutes for physical activity. It’ll improve your sense of wellbeing and you’ll be less likely to murder your husbands, kids, neighbors, the “manspreader”, etc. Everyone wins!
One last rant for the ladies.
As a trainer and wellness practitioner, I feel this is important. Here’s a little note on strength training. Somewhere along the way, women were taught that being strong isn’t necessary. That it’s better off for them to lift light or run a bajillion miles. Apparently it’s not lady like to squat, deadlift, or be able to push yourself up from the ground. But you need a strong back to carry the weight of not just you, but your kids (literally) and their stuff, and your husband (maybe less literally), and his stuff (definitely). No amount of yoga, or barre, or spin classes, or long runs will build lean muscle mass the way strength training does. For god’s sake, the bag you carry everyday is probably 15 lbs or more, and the kid, add another 20! No wonder your back hurts. It is imperative that women especially, train to carry the weight of their lives. And women, that is more than 5 lbs. Get rid of the baby weights. Start with a 20. Trust me when I say, your body will change, your mind will change, and the way you feel will change too.
Want to learn more about how to balance your hormone health through lifestyle and nutrition. Give us a shout!